April 26, 2018
Issue 226  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Some weeks there’s more good news than others and this is one of those weeks. Khanh Nguy Thi, the founder of Green Innovation and Development Centre, has been awarded a prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her advocacy work in Vietnam. In Russia, for the first time a court has overturned a permit for a coal mine after a government agency granted a private company permission to compulsorily acquire farming land. In Japan, two proposed coal plants are in doubt after a joint venture partner in one withdrew and the sponsor of another is deferring the proposal due to public opposition. In the US, a proposed coal port in Washington State has lost another legal case as it struggles to get permits for the project.

In India, the latest National Electricity Plan cuts a further 11,000 megawatt (MW) of coal plants from its 2027 estimate. In another significant move NTPC, the largest power generator in the country, has called for bids for a 2000 MW solar farm to help lower the power costs of its most expensive coal plants. However, it’s not all good news in India. While the national government has finally issued a draft plan to combat the country’s rapidly worsening air pollution problem, so far it is refusing to include coal power plants within the scope of the plan. Perhaps this will change after the public comment period. A new study on the before and after effects of a now closed coal plant in China reinforces the benefits from a shift to cleaner energy.

Bob Burton


India’s new energy plan trims coal growth, confirms ambitious renewables target

India’s latest National Electricity Plan 2018 increases the number of coal plants slated for closure and has trimmed the total coal plant capacity in 2027 by 11,000 megawatts (MW) compared to the 2016 plan, writes Tim Buckley and Kashish Shah from the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis.

India’s National Clean Air Plan has been released but does it go far enough?

India’s recently released draft National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) for the first time proposes a national approach to cutting air pollution but has major loopholes, writes Ruhie Kumar from Greenpeace India.

Canary in the coal pond

Recently released US government data lifted the lid on widespread off site contamination from US coal ash storage sites but now the Trump Administration is moving to roll back Obama-era reforms, writes Talia Bulford in ProPublica.


Russian court overturns permit for new coal mine

In a historic win, a court in Belovo district in Russia’s main coal-producing region of Kuzbass has overturned a permit granting a private company proposing a new coal mine the right to compulsorily acquire agricultural lands. In late 2016 the privately-owned company, Stroypozhservice (SPS), was given approval by the Ministry of Natural Resources to compulsorily acquire land on the grounds that it was a “governmental need.” The court agreed with residents, who were supported by the legal support group Team 29, that as the company was privately owned it was illegal to grant permission for the mine on the grounds it was a “governmental need.” The decision has been welcomed by the environmental group Ecodefense as being the first time a Russian court has overturned a permit for a coal mine. (Ecodefense)

Top News

Vietnamese clean air advocate wins Goldman Prize: The founder of Green Innovation and Development Centre, Khanh Nguy Thi, has been awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize for her research and advocacy of the need to dramatically reduce the number of proposed coal power stations in Vietnam. Nguy Thi and GreenID’s advocacy prompted the Vietnamese Government to cut the number of proposed coal plants and commit to an expansion of renewable energy. (Goldman Prize, The Asia Foundation)

Two Japanese utilities revise coal plans: The Shikoku Electric Power Company has announced its withdrawal from the joint venture company proposing to build the 112 MW Sendai-Takamatsu coal power plant. Shikoku Electric indicated its decision was due to public opposition to pollution from the project. Sumitomo Corporation, the other joint venture partner, has not yet indicated whether it still intends to press ahead with the project, but is likely to face delays. In a separate development, the new CEO of Tokyo Gas has announced the company will delay until at least March 2020 consideration of the proposed 2000 MW Sodegaura coal plant due to opposition by residents and concerns about climate change expressed by the Kiko Network and Friends of the Earth Japan. (Kiko Network [Google Translate], Nikkei [Google Translate and paywall])

Another legal setback for US coal port plan: The Washington state Shoreline Hearings Board has upheld the rejection by Cowlitz County Hearing Examiner of two key permits required by Millennium Bulk Terminals for its proposed Longview coal export terminal. In November 2017 the Hearing Examiner, Mark Scheibmeir, found the company could not show that it could adequately compensate for 10 significant adverse impacts, including noise and air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the project. The company plans to appeal the latest decision. (TDN.com, KGW8News)

India’s draft air quality plan ducks national target and omits power sector: The draft National Clean Air Program issued by the Environment Ministry fails to include the coal power sector or include previously discussed targets of cutting pollution by 35 per cent in three years and 50 per cent in five years. Greenpeace India also notes the draft proposes to focus on air pollution in only 100 cities, with pollution control elsewhere delegated to the states. By excluding explicit consideration of the thermal power sector, which is regulated by the central government, the plan doesn’t include  measures to address long-range pollutants from coal plants across whole regions. The draft plan is open for public comment until May 17. (Indian Express, Greenpeace India)

Indian coal over-invoicing investigation revived: The Delhi High Court has directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s national anti-corruption agency, to explain why it closed its inquiry into allegations that up to 40 companies evaded about 30,000 crore rupees (US$4.5 billion) in excise duties on coal and power plant equipment even though the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) was still investigating the cases. Major companies mentioned in the course of the DRI investigation have included Adani, Reliance Infrastructure, Essar Power and the publicly-owned NTPC. (The Wire)

Study reveals coal plant pollution damaged DNA of babies: Researchers from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health have found significant differences in the DNA between babies born during the operation of a coal plant in Chongqing in China and those born after the plant closed. Those born during the operation of the plant were found to have shorter telomeres, which have been associated with adverse health outcomes in adults including cardiovascular disease. The study argues the exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which was mostly attributed to the coal plant in Chongqing, correlates with the length of telomeres. The study found babies born after the closure of the plant had “significantly longer” telomeres. (Public Radio International, ScienceDirect)


Australia: An internal document from WA regulator argues cement plant should switch from coal to gas power to cut sulphur dioxide emissions.

India: Tamil Nadu’s shift to renewables and decline in coal imports is forcing Kamarajar port to rethink its business strategy.

India: CBI files case against Chief Vigilance Officer of Bharat Coking Coal for allegedly accumulating US$107,000 more than his known sources of income.

Mozambique: Cash-strapped Ncondezi Energy pitches Electricity de Mozambique for “new tariff envelope” for proposed US$500 million 300 MW Tete plant.

Myanmar: Hundreds protest against impacts of coal-fired cement plant in Mandalay.

South Africa: Treasury allows Eskom to buy coal without tender to supply seven fuel-starved plants.

Sri Lanka: Residents protest continued pollution from Chinese-backed Norochcholai coal plant.

UK: Discovery of protected newt at the site of proposed coal mine sparks calls for council to suspend mine development work.

UK: For the first time in 136 years the UK ran for 55 hours without coal power.

US: Former coal baron imprisoned over mine explosion which killed 29 is slipping from contention in primary race for Republican nomination for West Virginia Senate seat.

Vietnam: Alarm is growing over the rapid increase in the volume of coal ash from power stations.

Companies + Markets

Falling Indian renewables costs flips NTPC power strategy: Following an April 5 Ministry of Power decision to allow power generation companies to sell renewable electricity under existing power purchase agreements, NTPC has announced a tender for 2000 MW of solar capacity to “blend” with the output of the company’s most expensive existing coal plants. NTPC generates about one-quarter of the country’s electricity. An anonymous NTPC official said the solar capacity would help with grid balancing, reduce the cost of generating power, assist states in meeting their renewable purchase obligations and “help in reducing emissions.” (Economic Times)

Growth in Indian solar capacity outpaces coal: In financial year 2017-18 (April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018) the addition of new solar capacity outpaced the commissioning of new coal plants in India for the first time. While coal plants still account for 57 per cent of India’s power generation capacity, the commissioning of 5000 MW of new coal plants in FY2017-18 was about half the capacity addition of solar. Coal plant additions declined by 28 per cent in the 2017-18 financial year compared to the year before. Non-hydro renewables now accounts for over 19 per cent of India’s installed capacity, with solar capacity growing by 89 per cent between March 2017 and March 2018. (Mercom India)

HSBC unveils new coal policy but build in huge loopholes: HSBC has unveiled a new energy policy which extends its 2011 ban on new loans for coal plants to all countries bar Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia. According to the Global Coal Plant Tracker, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam between them have 75,667 MW of coal plants in the “announced, pre-permit & permitted” category. HSBC state they will consider funding these projects if a) “independent analysis” concludes the country “has no reasonable alternative to coal”, b) the plant is of a higher-efficiency design and c) financial close is completed by the end of 2023. (Business Green, HSBC)

Coal production from Cerrejon mine in Colombia slides: In its production statement for the January to March quarter, BHP has revealed coal production at the Cerrejon mine in Colombia – which it holds a one-third stake in - fell by over 16 per compared to the previous quarter. The company blamed a similar decline at its Mt Arthur mine in New South Wales on “a significant build in raw coal inventory late in the quarter” and adverse weather conditions. Declining European coal demand is squeezing Colombian coal exporters. Slowing Chinese thermal coal imports will also hit Australian and Indonesian exporters and is likely to undermine attempts by Colombian exporters to diversify into the Asia-Pacific market. (BHP Billiton, Platts)

Chinese coal import restrictions hit export price: New restrictions on coal imports through ports in southern China are likely to particularly affect high-ash and low calorific value coals from Australia and Indonesia. Since the restrictions – which include outright bans on imported coal at some ports –the price for high-ash 5500 kilocalories per kilogram coal from Newcastle has slumped from US$88 a tonne to US$65 tonne. As Japan, South Korea and Taiwan generally prefer lower ash coal due to pollution and other concerns, exporters are likely to face a hard time finding alternative markets. While India imports high-ash coal it is only likely to be a bidder on cargoes at heavily discounted prices. (Platts, Reuters)

Trump Administration struggles to find legal path to bail out coal plants: Senior Trump Administration advisers have expressed doubt that FirstEnergy Solutions’ bid for the US Department of Energy to declare a grid emergency and bail out uneconomic coal and nuclear plants will occur in the short term. A proposal by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to subsidise coal and nuclear plants was rejected in January after opposition from the oil and gas industry, the renewables sector and environmentalists. The most recent proposal, to use provisions of the Defense Production Act, are also being opposed by parts of the energy industry and are considered to be vulnerable to legal challenges. (Bloomberg, Bloomberg)