October 18, 2018
Issue 250  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

While the coal lobby routinely claims coal power plants will operate for decades more, an increasingly plausible scenario is that they could go offline far faster than most commentators currently suggest. In Taiwan, a highly unpopular proposed coal plant has been shelved. In India, a proposed 2400 megawatt (MW) coal plant has also been reportedly shelved.

Existing coal plants are also struggling. In Poland, the country’s largest utility has abruptly announced an old coal unit will soon close and flagged that rising carbon prices make diversification into renewables attractive. In China, a new study suggests that as many as 40% of existing coal plants may already be losing money. In India, Delhi’s sole coal plant has been permanently shut down as extreme air pollution in the capital city re-emerges. Over 100 other Indian cities have yet to implement air pollution control plans but public pressure is growing.

In the US, the Trump administration has reportedly abandoned plans to bail out failing coal and nuclear plants. However, the administration is rather optimistically seeking to bypass public opposition to new West Coast coal ports by investigating the potential use of military bases. In Germany, a major utility is complaining that as a result of a court ruling on the Hambach forest it could be forced to cut lignite production by up to one third.

Bob Burton


The end of coal could be closer than it looks

The mainstream view that we can’t decarbonize our electricity system fast enough to meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Paris Agreement’s targets may well be mistaken, writes David Fickling in Bloomberg.

Indonesia wants to export more coal but buyers ignore the call

Indonesia wants to export up to 100 million tonnes more coal a year to shore up its faltering currency with increased foreign exchange earnings but, to date, buyers don’t seem interested, writes Clyde Russell in Reuters.


Taiwan shelves planned 1200 MW coal plant

Taiwan’s Premier, Lai Ching-te, has announced he supports a decision by the Ministry of Economic Affairs to shelve the proposed 1200 MW Shenao coal plant in New Taipei. In May 2018, Taipower gained approval from the Environmental Protection Administration for the project, which was first proposed in 2006 and later shelved. However, the decision by the centre-left Democratic Progressive Party to proceed with the project was opposed by local governments and an alliance of community groups. In August, petitions in support of referenda on the proposed plant and tighter air pollution standards garnered over 480,000 signatures. With local government elections scheduled for November 24, a legal complaint filed and a Greenpeace health study estimating the plant would cause 570 premature deaths in its first 15 years operation, Lai’s administration chose to backtrack. Community groups have welcomed the decision but the alternative plan for a liquefied natural gas terminal and gas power plant expansion is also controversial. (Taiwan News, FocusTaiwan, CoalSwarm)

Top News

Indian air pollution crisis forces coal plant shutdown: Extreme air pollution in Delhi has forced the national government to implement its Graded Response Action Plan ordered by the Supreme Court. As a part of the plan, which came into effect on October 15, the highly polluting 705 MW Badarpur coal power plant has been permanently shut down. However, other polluting plants in the surrounding region remain operating. A Right to Information request by Greenpeace India has revealed that 102 Indian cities have very poor air quality but Delhi, the national capital, is currently the only one that has a plan to reduce air pollution. (DNA India, Greenpeace India)

RWE complains court ruling may cut Hambach coal production by up to one third: RWE has complained that a court ruling freezing the clearing of Hambach forest will force a cut in lignite production of five million tonnes this year. The case launched by the German Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND), which may take until late 2020 to be finalised, centres on whether the Hambach forest should be designated as a protected habitat under the European Union’s Habitats Directive due to the presence of Bechstein's bats. In granting the injunction, the court ruled RWE had not proven clearing the forest was essential for maintaining Germany’s energy supply. After the decision RWE claimed production cut at the mine could be as much as 10–15 million tonnes a year from 2019. (Montel News, Platts)

German minister floats idea of canning part-built RWE plant: Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Peter Altmaier, has suggested that one option for meeting the target to cut 5000 MW of coal plant capacity would be to scrap Uniper’s part-built 1100 MW Datteln 4 plant before it is commissioned in 2020. The plant, which was originally due to be commissioned in 2010, has been delayed by legal challenges and most recently by boiler faults discovered during testing. Earlier this year a court rejected RWE’s unilateral bid to cancel a contract it entered into with Uniper to purchase 450 MW of power from the Datteln 4 plant. Uniper, which recorded a €270 million (US$311 million) impairment charge on the plant earlier this year, has objected to Altmaier’s suggestion. (Reuters, CoalSwarm)

Trump administration pitches plan to use military bases for new export terminals: The US Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has confirmed his agency is considering the use of military bases for the establishment of new coal export terminals in order to bypass opposition by communities and West Coast governments. Six proposed coal ports in Washington and Oregon have been blocked or shelved. Zinke did not mention any potential coal port locations. However, any proposed new port would still require permits by state regulators. A coal analyst for S&P Global Platts Analytics, Joe Aldina, described the move as being a “long shot” like other Trump Administration moves to help the coal industry. In September 2018, a draft report by the National Coal Council, a coal industry-dominated advisory body to the US Department of Energy, proposed the establishment of coal ports on federal lands. (Associated Press, Politico)

South African coal plans face challenges: South Africa’s High Court has been told by lawyers for a coalition of eight groups that the former Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, and the late Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, should not have issued a permit to Atha-Africa Ventures for a coal mine in the Mabola Protected Environment. The area is a crucial water conservation area and home of highly threatened Mpumalanga grasslands. In a separate development, the Center for Environmental Rights has appeared before the South African Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Energy and argued that the proposed 630 MW Thabametsi and 300 MW Khanyisa coal plants would face a constitutional challenge if they are included in the Integrated Resource Plan. (Daily Maverick, Fin24, Center for Environmental Rights)

Pakistan court orders anti-corruption agency to investigate failed power project: Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, Saqib Nisar, has ordered an audit of a failed Thar underground coal gasification power project after the expenditure of 3.2 billion rupees (US$24 million) of public funding. The project, which had been approved on the basis it would generate 100 MW of electricity and cost 9 billion rupees (US$68 million), was described by the court as a “total failure”. Additional federal funding for the project was suspended in 2016–17 when it was realised the project only had generation capacity of 8 MW. A Supreme Court panel of three judges has directed that all records on the project be handed over to the prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency. (Business Recorder)

Queensland Government approves boost in Adani port capacity: The Queensland Government has granted Adani approval to increase coal exports by 10 million tonnes a year through its existing Abbott Point Coal Terminal. The existing terminal has an approved capacity of 50 million tonnes a year though in 2017 it exported only 28 million tonnes. Adani has previously proposed to build another terminal with a capacity of 40 million tonnes a year to cater for its proposed Carmichael coal project. Instead, Adani has won approval for the reallocation of 10 million tonnes a year capacity from the proposed terminal to the existing terminal. In a move described by environmentalists as yet “another special deal”, the Queensland Government has granted Adani a one-year extension to pay A$18.5 million (US$13.2 million) for its water licence. (ABC News, Guardian)

“Coal is having its asbestos moment,”

Australian Greens Member of Parliament, Adam Bandt, told the Energy Summit hosted by the Australian Financial Review.


Australia: South Korean NGO questions KEPCO’s decision to invest in Bylong coal mine in New South Wales.

Australia: Court challenge against Korea Resource Corporation’s plan to mine in water catchment set to commence on November 12.

Germany: Bavarian election result weakens Merkel’s coalition government and increases coal policy uncertainty.

Greece: Legal challenge launched over the granting of a permit without any environmental impact assessment for the lignite-fired Meliti I plant and a proposed expansion at the same site.

India: Greenpeace India raided again and bank accounts frozen by the Ministry of Finance’s Enforcement Directorate.

Kosovo: Call for World Bank to back clean energy after refusing to fund Kosovo C lignite plant.

Norway: Government earmarks €74 million (US$85 million) for environmental cleanup of two closed mines on Svalbad.

South Korea: Korea Customs Service investigates two more shipments of coal suspected of being in breach of United National sanctions on North Korean exports.

US: Murray Energy donated US$72,000 for PR campaign in support of West Virginia’s Senate President, Republican Mitch Carmichael.

Companies + Markets

Indian utility abandons plan for 2400 MW plant: India's publicly owned utility, NTPC, has reportedly cancelled its proposed 2400 MW Gajamara power project in Odisha after opposition to the project by landowners. The project was proposed as a joint venture between NTPC, which generates one quarter of India’s electricity, and the National Aluminium Company Limited (Nalco) which wanted the power to enable the expansion of its Angul aluminium smelter. According to an anonymous NTPC official a December 2016 agreement between NTPC and Nalco for the development of power projects has been cancelled and funds paid to landowners written off. In May, Nalco announced it planned to fund the development of a 1320 MW coal plant on the smelter site to cater for the proposed expansion. (Hindu Business Line)

Poland’s largest utility to close old unit and diversify into renewables: Poland’s largest electricity utility, the state-owned PGE, has told the energy market that the 370 MW Unit 1 at its lignite-fired Belchatow power plant will be closed after June 1, 2019. PGE suggested the closure may occur earlier due to “the deteriorating technical condition” of the unit. PGE has flagged the need to invest in renewables as their costs have fallen and the European Union’s carbon price has tripled over the last year. “Even without the recent surge in carbon prices, renewables are becoming competitive compared to coal-fired plants,” said PGE’s strategy director, Monika Morawiecka. (GPI, Montel)

Trump administration reportedly shelves US coal plant bailout plan: The Trump administration has reportedly shelved a plan to bail out financially stressed coal and nuclear power plants after resistance to the plan by the National Security Council and National Economic Council. At the heart of the internal opposition to the proposal were concerns about what exactly was proposed, the cost of the scheme and who would pay. A report commissioned by the US Department of Energy into the resilience of the US power system has not been publicly released despite being completed six months ago. The report, by Michael Webber from the University of Texas’s Webber Energy Group, argues that on-site fuel reserves are just one of a dozen factors influencing the resilience of power generators at risk of closing. “Power plants aren’t the big problem,” Webber said, instead identifying the vulnerability of transmission lines as a more significant factor. (Politico, Bloomberg)

Closure of loss-making Chinese plants offers opportunity to reach Paris Agreement targets: Based on an analysis of satellite imagery of coal power plants in China, Carbon Tracker estimates 40 per cent of the power stations may already be losing money. The study argues that by 2040 up to 90 per cent of plants could be loss-making due to increasing carbon prices and air pollution regulations. The study claims China’s coal plant owners could avoid losing an estimated US$390 billion by 2040 by retiring plants in line with the Paris Agreement. The study used satellite images to estimate operating hours, a method it estimates is over 90 per cent accurate based on cross-correlation with data published on US and European Union plants. (Carbon Tracker, Carbon Tracker)

Protests push Vale to suspend production in part of Mozambique mine: Protests by villagers over coal mine dust pollution and the impact of frequent blasting has forced Vale to suspend production from part of its Moatize mine. The Moatize mine was commissioned in July 2011 and subsequently expanded with the aim of producing 22 million tonnes of coal a year. However, in 2017 Vale produced 11.2 million tonnes of coal of which 62 per cent was metallurgical coal. (Platts, Macauhub)

Turkey privatises coal deposits in bid to boost domestic production: The Turkish Government has announced it has allocated seven coal deposits, containing 203 million tonnes of reserves, to private companies. Four of the deposits, with an estimated potential annual production of 15.6 million tonnes a year, contain low-quality lignite. The three hard coal deposits have an estimated annual production capacity of three million tonnes a year. The recent depreciation of the Turkish lira against the US dollar has prompted the government to state it wants to cut the country’s coal imports by increasing domestic coal production. In 2017, Turkey imported an estimated 37 million tonnes of coal. However, the privatised coal deposits are all inland while the power stations reliant on imported coal are in coastal locations. (Platts)

Mongolian Government pushes for new Rio Tinto coal plant switch: Rio Tinto and the Mongolian Government have reportedly agreed to proceed with a new coal-fired power station at the government-owned Tavan Tolgoi mine. In 2009, Rio Tinto agreed to build a new coal plant to supply its Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper mine but the project was shelved in favour of continuing to import power from neighbouring China. However, the Mongolian Government has pressed the mining company to honour the 2009 commitment to source its power from domestic sources in the long term. The 2009 agreement allowed Rio Tinto to “use or develop supplemental power from renewable energy sources” such as wind and solar but the company and government negotiations focussed on the location of competing coal power options. (Australian Financial Review [paywall])

Australian high-ash coal exports test new markets: Declining Chinese demand for high-ash coal is forcing Australian coal companies to export shipments to Europe, Egypt and increase exports to India at the expense of South African exports. High-ash, 5,500 kilocalories per kilogram coal from Newcastle is selling at UDS$67 a tonne, a little over US$5 a tonne cheaper than South African coal of a similar grade. However, analysts doubt such long-distance exports will be sustainable. “It is purely a speculative trade,” one anonymous analyst said. (Platts)


Nowhere to hide: Using satellite imagery to estimate the utilisation of fossil fuel power plants, Carbon Tracker, October 2018. (Free registration required to access the report.)

This 22-page report investigates the financial implications of the growing overcapacity of the Chinese coal plant fleets.

Advanced Fossil Energy: Information on DOE-Provided Funding for Research and Development Projects Started from Fiscal Years 2010 through 2017, US Government Accountability Office, September 2018. (Pdf)

This 35-page report provides a detailed overview of the fossil fuel projects supported by the US Department of Energy between 2010 and 2017, including nine carbon capture and storage projects on which US$1.12 billion was spent.