June 21, 2018
Issue 234  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

The latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis estimates that by 2050 dramatic further declines in the cost of solar, wind and batteries will drive the collapse of coal power down to about 11 per cent of global power generation. The high costs of coal compared to renewables are already taking a toll on proposed coal plants. This week a 4000 megawatt (MW) plant in India, first touted to be based on imported coal then cheaper local coal, has been scrapped. It may be a similar story in Kosovo with the plan for a proposed 500 MW coal unit long promoted by the World Bank looking like it may soon collapse too due to the viability of renewables.

At the other end of the coal chain the New Zealand Government has rejected permission for public land to be used for a new coal mine. In Indonesia, local fishing operators are attempting to prevent a coal transhipping operation polluting their fishing grounds. In Sri Lanka, residents near a Chinese-backed coal plant complain of the health impacts from the plant and its associated coal ash dump. In China, researchers report that the discrepancy between pollution data from satellites and ground-based sensors suggests the possibility of misleading data being provided to regulators.

In the UK, proposed regulations are aimed at making it easier for pension fund directors to divest from investments on grounds beyond narrow financial returns.

Bob Burton

Features

Coal is being squeezed out of power industry by cheap renewables

Coal will be increasingly squeezed out of the power generation market over the next three decades as the cost of renewables plunges, write Reed Landberg  and Anna Hirtenstein in Bloomberg.

Coal isn’t safe even in its Asian fortress

The latest BP data reveals not only that the thermal coal market has been propped up over the last decade by China and India but that both coal and gas are increasingly losing market share to renewables, writes Liam Denning in Bloomberg.

Six things we learned from BP’s annual energy report

Carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector grew by 1.6 per cent in 2017 largely due to increasing coal use in countries such China and India, write Lauri Myllyvirta and Zach Boren in Greenpeace’s Unearthed.

New coal in Turkey and the Balkans will test China’s and the EU’s climate leadership

The European Union and China have to live up to their responsibilities on climate change and use every opportunity to support the Western Balkans and Turkey to move beyond coal, write Elif Gunduzyeli and Igor Kalaba in Euractiv.

Campaigns

New Zealand refuses to permit use of conservation land for new coal mine

The New Zealand Government has rejected an application by Rangitira Developments to use 12 hectares of public conservation land for its proposed Te Kuha mine. The Minister of Conservation, Eugenie Sage, and the Minister of Energy Resources, Megan Woods, announced that the limited economic benefits from the mine were not “large enough to outweigh the irreparable damage to an area with very high, unique and nationally significant conservation values.” The public land the company sought accounts for about 11 per cent of the proposed open cut mine pit. Forest and Bird, which has campaigned against the mine, welcomed the decision but said it will continue with two legal challenges against the project as it is unclear whether the company will seek to press ahead with the project despite the lack of access to the Mt Rochfort Conservation Area. (Stuff, New Zealand Government)

Top News

Indian 4000 MW “Ultra Mega” project scrapped: NTPC, which generates one-quarter of India’s electricity, has reportedly decided the proposed 4000 MW Pudimadaka Ultra Mega Power Project in Andhra Pradesh state is “unviable” and has abandoned the project. The project was initially approved in 2011, and had intended to operate on imported coal and subsequently domestic coal. Despite opposition of villagers to the project, NTPC purchased 485 hectares of land for the project. The cancellation of the plant has not been officially announced but NTPC officials posted to the area for the project have been recalled. (The Hindu, CoalSwarm)

Indonesian fishing operators surrounded coal transhipment operation: In early June an estimated 200 fishing operators from Manggar, the capital city of the Indonesian province of Bangka-Belitung, surrounded an offshore transhipping project to block it uploading coal. The protest was due to concern that coal from the ships was polluting local fishing grounds. Subsequently fishing operators have attended mediation sessions with the management of the coal mining company PT Gunyung Bayan but so far without the resolution of their concerns. The Indonesian Coal Mining Association has claimed coal “cannot be dispersed by water.” (TribunKaltim [Google Translate], Jakarta Post)

World Bank energy review may prompt retreat on Kosovo plant: The World Bank has hinted that a review of Kosovo’s energy options could result in it reconsidering its support for the proposed 500 MW lignite-fired unit. The World Bank said the review would take account of the rapid technological changes of renewables and declining costs of solar, wind, and battery storage. In December 2017 the Kosovo Government entered into an agreement with ContourGlobal, a US company, to build the US$1.2 billion plant. While the World Bank has previously given in-principle support for the project it has never finalised funding. (Climate Home News, Reuters)

Coal ash pollution from Sri Lanka’s only coal plant: Villagers living near the Chinese-backed 900 MW Norochcholai coal power plant have complained of skin and respiratory problems they believe have been caused by pollution from the coal ash dump. The plant’s three units, which were commissioned between 2011 and 2014, produce an estimated 2.5 million tonnes of bottom ash and 365,000 tonnes of fly ash a year. At present there is no properly constructed storage dam for the waste as the government hopes the coal ash will be sold for use in building products. However, the Director General of Health Services has recommended a study be done on pollution from the plant. (Sunday Observer)

Study finds China’s coal pollution enforcement is patchy: A study of 256 coal power plants in four provinces has found that a pollution control law that came into effect in July 2017 resulted in a 13.9 per cent reduction in sulphur dioxide pollution. However, the study found that while the law required greater sulphur dioxide emissions reductions in the most heavily polluted and populated regions, the plants in these areas were the least compliant. In areas where the sulphur dioxide emission standard was set at the far tougher 50 milligrams per cubic metre limit they found no correlation between satellite data and plant-based sensors, suggesting that data supplied to regulators from plants was being manipulated. (MIT News, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

Experts warn Adani mine would ruin desert springs: Legal and water experts have criticised as weak and ineffective a draft Adani plan on how it proposes to avoid damaging the protected Doongmabulla Springs and Mellaluka Springs near its proposed Carmichael coal mine. Independent scientific advisers recently stated Adani’s mine could permanently drain the springs which are listed as “endangered ecological communities” and host several endemic and threatened species. (ABC)

“An LNP [Liberal National Party] Government would mandate investment by our government-owned energy companies in renewable energy generation. We need to transition to a future beyond coal,”

said Deb Frecklington, the Parliamentary leader of the conservative Queensland Liberal National Party.

News

Australia: Regulators have granted Wollongong Coal yet another extension for pollution control works that were due for completion over five years ago.

Indonesia: Prevalence of illegal mining operations becomes election issue in South Kalimantan.

US: TransAlta fined over US$331,000 for breaching mercury standards and failing to properly operate nitrogen oxides control equipment at the only coal plant in Washington State.

US: Navajo environmental groups launch legal action over renewal of mining lease for Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine.

Companies + Markets

Chinese coal-to-gas project rejected: CNOOC’s proposed coal-to-gas project near the city of Ordos in Inner Mongolia province has been rejected on environmental grounds. Inner Mongolia produces almost one billion tonnes of coal a year, two-thirds of which comes from near Ordos. However, Ordos is one of China’s most water-scarce provinces in part due to the impacts of mining and minerals processing plants. New coal-to-gas proposals also face daunting financial hurdles as they aren’t viable without subsidies.  (Upstream Online, New Security Beat)

Hannover Re retreats from insuring coal: Hannover Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company, has announced it is divesting from companies that depend on coal for more than 25% of their revenue. However, the company has not ruled out investing in companies that develop new coal plants or insuring coal power projects. With Hannover Re’s decision Unfriend Coal and Urgewald estimate almost half the global reinsurance market has now divested at least in part from coal companies. (Unfriend Coal/Urgewald)

Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects rapid decline for coal: Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates that by 2050 coal power may generate just 11 per cent of global electricity, down from its current 38 per cent. BNEF estimates solar photovoltaic plant costs could fall by 71 per cent and wind energy by 58 per cent by 2050, concluding that solar photovoltaic and wind energy are “already cheaper than building new large-scale coal and gas plants.” However, BNEF estimates coal power declining to 11 per cent of global power generation  would still be insufficient to achieve even the 2 degrees temperature increase goal. BNEF concludes that while a “forced” phase-out of all coal plants by 2035 would put the world closer to the two degrees goal it would still be insufficient. (PV Magazine, BNEF)

UK pension funds cleared to dump fossil fuel investments: The UK the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has proposed new regulations to clarify that the fiduciary duties of pension fund directors are not to solely focus on short term returns. The DWP states the proposed regulations aim to “reassure trustees that they can (and indeed should)” have, among other things, an agreed approach to address member concerns about issues such as climate change and the pension scheme’s whole strategy. The proposed rules are open for public consultation until July 16. (Guardian, Department for Work and Pensions)

Indian banks keep backing coal: A new report by the Centre for Financial Accountability estimates that in 2017 Indian banks loaned US$9.35 billion for 12 coal-based power plants with a total capacity of 17,000 MW. Most of the loans for coal projects came from state-owned banks and national financial institutions such as the Rural Electrification Corporation and the State Bank of India. An estimated 70 per cent of the coal loans were for refinancing existing projects. While an estimated US$3.5 billion was spent on 60 clean energy projects, with a total capacity of 4500 MW, the money was mostly from private financial institutions. (Quartz)

Trumps bailout plan does little to deter utilities’ coal closure plans: US utilities say that President Trump’s June 1 direction to the US Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, to bail out US coal and nuclear plants hasn’t changed their closure plans. Some doubt the ability of Trump’s mooted plan to survive legal challenges while for others coal plant closures have been negotiated to settle legal actions. Richard Glick, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, says coal and nuclear plant closures are “pure economics” with low gas prices and the falling cost of renewables beating competitors. (Bloomberg)

Resources

India 2017 Coal v/s Renewables Finance Analysis, Centre for Financial Accountability, June 2018. (Pdf)

This 17-page report examines project finance lending to 72 coal and renewable energy projects in India that were funded in 2017.