December 19, 2019
Issue 304  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The widespread media coverage of the failure of the United Nations climate conference has perhaps overshadowed the gathering momentum away from support for coal by banks and insurance companies. After prodding by European NGOs, Credit Suisse announced that it will end all support for financing the development of new coal plants without the geographical loopholes that exist in some other banks’ policies. Goldman Sachs has also announced a coal policy that imposes an end to financial support for new thermal coal mines and power plants. While the new policy has its limitations, it marks a welcome shift by US banks.

A major US insurance company, Liberty Mutual, announced its first but so far limited restrictions on support for coal too. Standard Chartered has also announced a tightening of its coal policy and that it will exit three coal projects in Southeast Asia including two big projects in Vietnam. The Hong Kong-based power company, CLP, has also announced it won’t support new coal projects. In Greece, the publicly owned utility has unveiled a plan to exit all of its existing lignite units by 2023.

Perhaps one somewhat underreported aspect of the UN climate conference was how Japan — one of the biggest subsidisers of new coal plants in Southeast Asia — was called out by NGOs, other countries and domestic media outlets for not announcing a new policy to cut support for coal plants at home and abroad.

As banks increasingly sound a retreat on coal, utilities and contractors are facing public pressure too. In Taiwan, public opposition to coal pollution from Taipower’s major plants has spurred fines and public protests and is likely to feature in the January 2020 presidential election. In Australia, consultancy company GHD has ended its work on Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal project as Siemens is reconsidering whether it will stick with its railway equipment supply contract for part of the project.

CoalWire will take a short break over the Christmas–New Year period with the next edition out on January 9.

Bob Burton


Will China follow leading global insurers and withdraw from coal power?

Sinosure and most of China’s commercial insurers have not yet joined with other insurance companies moving away from coal and risk becoming insurers of last resort for an industry that has no future, writes Peter Bosshard from Unfriend in China Dialogue.

Life under the shadow of a coal plant in Pakistan

The Sahiwal Coal Power Project transformed the agricultural heartland of Punjab and the lives of those living around it, writes Syed Muhammad Abubakar in Dawn.

India gets out of coal and into renewable energy

India has been aggressively pivoting away from coal-fired power plants with the initial renewables target of 175,000 megawatts (MW) being increased to 275,000 MW and more recently 475,000 MW, writes Tim Buckley from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

A major but little-known supporter of climate denial: freight railroads

For nearly 30 years, America’s four biggest rail companies — which move the majority of the country’s coal — have spent millions to deny climate science and block climate policy, writes Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic.


Greece accelerates closure of existing lignite plants

Greece’s publicly owned power utility, Public Power Corporation (PPC), has approved accelerating the closure of its 12 existing lignite units by 2023 rather than 2028 as had been previously planned. The closure of the lignite units, which have a combined capacity of about 3400 MW, will also result in the closure of the related mines. PPC is proposing to source an additional 1000 MW of renewable capacity by 2024. While PPC is proposing to shut down existing lignite units, it also wants to commission the 660 MW Ptolemaida V unit, currently under construction, in 2023 but run it on lignite for only five years then convert it to another as yet unspecified fuel. Two other units at the Kardia plant, with an approximate combined capacity of 600 MW, have already been closed. (Reuters, PPC [Greek])

Top News

Colombian court orders Drummond to shut down coal bed methane: Colombia's State Council, the highest administrative court, has ordered US-headquartered Drummond to temporarily halt coal bed methane production on its La Loma mine lease area. Two environmental groups, Corporación Podion and the Colombia Free of Fracking Alliance, sought a ruling that coal bed methane should be classed as unconventional gas production and, in line with an earlier court decision banning fracking in all but a few pilot projects, should be stopped. The court agreed to a temporary ban ahead of its final decision on unconventional gas production in 2020. Drummond has drilled 15 coal bed methane wells at its La Loma mine. Drummond declined to comment on the court ruling. (Argus Media, Reuters)

Japan shunned at UN climate summit: Japan’s inability to announce significant policy changes to its continued plans for more coal plants at home and subsidies for coal plants abroad saw it given two Fossil of the Day awards by Climate Action International at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid. In his speech to the conference, Japan’s Environment Minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, a rising star in Japanese politics, acknowledged “global criticism, including of our coal-related policies” but did not announce any significant changes. It was reported that he had proposed announcing a plan to cut support for new coal plants abroad but this was rejected due to opposition by the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. (Mainichi, NHK)

Taiwanese city fines coal plant operator again for breaching coal cap: For the second time in a month the Taichung City Government has fined Taipower for breaching the recently imposed annual consumption limit of 11.04 million tonnes of coal at its 5500 MW Taichung Power Plant. The latest fine was 6 million New Taiwan dollars (US$199,355). The new coal consumption cap was set in September 2019 but Taipower argues that the cap is not legal and it only has to comply with the 16 million tonnes a year limit set in 2017 by the previous council administration. In southern Taiwan hundreds of residents of Kaohsiung city marched to protest against air pollution from a steel plant and oil refinery and called for the decommissioning of Taipower’s 2100 MW Singda coal plant. Air pollution is likely to be a major issue in Taiwan’s presidential election which will be held on January 11, 2020. (Taipei Times, Taipei Times)

Siemens CEO agrees to review contract for Adani Australia’s coal project: Nine people have been arrested at a Siemens office after Adani Australia announced the company had been awarded a contract to supply railway signalling systems as part of the proposed Carmichael coal project. Subsequently Siemens global chief executive, Joe Kaeser, tweeted that he was “not aware” of concerns about the project, a claim disputed by Market Forces which had written to him two weeks beforehand. Kaeser stated that he would “diligently look into the matter and get back to you soon” but cautioned that Siemens decision “may or may not change.” Siemens’ review comes as the consultancy company GHD has announced to staff that it has ended work for Adani’s coal project. However, GHD has not ruled out future work for Adani and has defended continuing to work for other fossil fuel companies. (Brisbane Times, Siemens, Market Forces, GHD)

Indian coal plants will flout pollution control deadline: Over 90 per cent of the coal plants directed to comply with new pollution standards by December 31 deadline will not have installed the required flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) units. The plants have a combined capacity of 14,000 MW. The new standards were first announced in December 2015 with the initial deadline for compliance in December 2017 extended to December 2019 following lobbying from power utilities. The bulk of the plants set to breach the standards are located in the states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. A further 26,330 MW of coal units have been directed to meet the emission standards by December 2020 and over 64,000 MW in each of 2021 and 2022. To date contracts for FGD units have only been awarded for 35,200 MW of the total capacity. (Financial Express)

Bankruptcy records of US company reveal role in funding climate denial: Documents filed by Murray Energy as part of its bankruptcy proceedings reveal that it bankrolled a swathe of non-profit groups promoting climate denial including the Heartland Institute, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. The documents also reveal that Murray Energy gave US$300,000 to Government Accountability and Oversight, a little-known group which launched a project dubbed ClimateLitigationWatch to “expose” legal actions against energy companies over climate damages. (The Intercept)

German coal exit recommendations wrangle: Debate over the implementation of the recommendations of the coal exit commission continues with industry associations and some other participants arguing against any coal plant closures without compensation and for commissioning of the 1100 MW Datteln 4 plant. A proposed law on compensation for coal plant closures was due to be finalised by Cabinet this month but has now been delayed until next year. A draft of the coal exit law had proposed banning wind turbines within one kilometre of houses but this has been dropped in the latest draft. Onshore wind generation would be required to fill a significant part of the capacity currently supplied by coal and lignite units. However, wind industry groups understand new restrictions are still being debated among government ministers and may emerge in separate energy legislation in 2020. (Reuters, Clean Energy Wire, Recharge)

Russian Arctic coal project approved but doubts remain: Glavgosexpertiza, a non-profit company which advises Russia’s Ministry of Construction on proposed projects, has approved Vostok Coal’s proposed Nizhnelemberovsky coal mine on the Taymyr Peninsula. However, there are doubts about the company’s claim that the project will be producing 19 million tonnes of coal a year by 2025. Vostok Coal’s plan accounts for a large part of the 80 million tonnes of freight target President Vladimir Putin has proposed to underpin the development of the Northern Sea Route, a new Arctic shipping route. The Director of the Northern Sea Route Directorate, Vyacheslav Ruksha, noted that the company had planned to begin work on the project in March 2019 but nothing happened. Doubts about the project come as a Russian court has ordered the closure of the Centre for the Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North, a group that has raised concerns about indigenous rights and environmental protection across the Arctic. (The Barents Observer, The Barents Observer)

“…Coal no longer makes sense. It pollutes rivers and fills our lungs with poison. It doesn’t seem to work when it rains, or when it’s too hot. It is the source of massive corruption, state capture and patronage networks that go all the way to the leadership of this country. It drives the climate crisis, which is already destroying communities and threatens to undo all the achievements of this democratic country. Coal is also unaffordable, and as the president noted this week, banks will not finance it,”

states an editorial in the Mail & Guardian, a leading South African newspaper.


New Zealand: Losing mayoral candidate accepted a NZ$7500 donation from NZ Coal.

Peru: Engie announces the 135 MW Ilo 21 coal plant will close by 2022.

“Japan must not settle for the status quo, but instead opt for a path in which it can strive to achieve the goal of phasing out of coal-fired power. That is the minimum responsibility that an advanced country ought to fulfil,”

states an editorial in The Mainichi, a major Japanese newspaper.

Companies + Markets

Credit Suisse extends policy to end support for new coal plants: Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second largest bank, announced ahead of its annual day for investors that it will end all support for financing the development of new coal plants. The new policy does not make any geographical exclusions and applies to where the “majority of the use of proceeds” of financial support would be used for new thermal coal mines or power plants. The announcement follows criticism from Urgewald and a coalition of NGOs that major banks continued to offer support for new coal plants around the world. Previously Credit Suisse’s policy only extended to excluding financing of new greenfield thermal coal mines. (Reuters, Credit Suisse)

Goldman Sachs tightens coal lending policy: Goldman Sachs’ revised environment policy excludes support for new thermal coal mines or mountaintop mining projects and all new coal power projects worldwide. However, the policy does not rule out financial support for coal transport infrastructure such as railways and ports. For existing companies with significant revenue from thermal coal mining or coal plants, Goldman Sachs states it will “engage” with them over their strategy to diversify away from thermal coal. The policy also states that it will phase out financial support for companies without a diversification strategy “within a reasonable timeframe”. The new policy has been broadly welcomed by NGO groups, noting the new restrictions and the absence of any geographical loopholes for new thermal coal mines or plants. (Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, Goldman Sachs)

US insurance company dumps coal insurance: Just after co-founder Bill McKibben penned a scathing opinion column condemning the failure of Liberty Mutual’s investment policy to end support for climate-damaging companies and projects, the insurance company released a policy on coal mining and power. Liberty Mutual announced it would not accept underwriting risk for, or invest in, companies which have over 25 per cent of their exposure in thermal coal mining or power production. It also committed to phase out underwriting coverage and investments in companies over the 25 per cent threshold by 2023. Rainforest Action Network welcomed Liberty Mutual’s policy as an initial step but noted that it left the door open for the company to invest in or underwrite companies developing new coal plants if they operated under the 25 per cent threshold. (Boston Globe, Liberty Insurance, Rainforest Action Network)

Standard Chartered tightens coal lending policy: Standard Chartered, a banking and financial services company headquartered in UK and Hong Kong, has announced it has withdrawn financial support for the 1200 MW Vung Ang 2 and the 190 MW Vinh Tan 3 coal plants in Vietnam and a third as-yet-unnamed plant in Southeast Asia. In a revision of its September 2018 policy, Standard Chartered has announced that it will cease providing any financial products or services to companies involved in thermal coal projects by 2030. The new policy has been welcomed by BankTrack as the leading policy by a UK bank and is notable for its restrictions on general corporate finance for coal companies, not just project lending. However, the NGO expects Standard Chartered, HSBC and Barclays to come under increasing pressure to further tighten their coal policies ahead of the next UN climate conference in Glasgow in November 2020. (BankTrack, Standard Chartered)

Hong Kong-based CLP to end role in new coal plants: The Hong Kong-based power utility CLP has announced it will not invest in any more thermal coal plants. CLP currently has interests in 11,997 MW of coal plants in India, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, China, and Australia. CLP has also stated that it will progressively phase out all remaining coal assets by only by 2050. (Reuters)

UK-led consortium to pursue coal-to-fertiliser project in Pakistan: Oracle Power, a UK-headquartered company, has entered into an agreement with Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Juma Al Maktoum of Dubai and China National Coal Development to develop a proposed coal-to-fertiliser plant based on Thar block VI in Sindh province. In parallel, a subsidiary of Oracle Power is seeking to develop a 700 MW coal plant at the same site in a joint venture with Beijing Jingneng Power Company and PowerChina. (Oracle Power, Global Energy Monitor)

US power market operator finds coal plants being kept in market by loss-making bidding: An investigation by the independent market monitor for the grid operator of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) in the US has found that uneconomic coal plants are the main beneficiaries of utilities “self-scheduling” units to avoid the seasonal costs of shutting units down. The investigation follows an earlier report by the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists on the Midcontinent Independent System Operator and the practice of self-scheduling which allows utilities to pass the higher costs onto consumers while cleaner and cheaper energy sources are displaced from the merit order for supply. The SPP report found that without the scheduling of loss-making units, market prices would increase by about 7 per cent or US$2 per megawatt hour. (Utility Dive, Southwest Power Pool)

Bailout bid by Romanian utility: Romania’s state-owned coal and power utility CE Oltenia, has requested an emergency loan of 1.1 billion Romanian leu (US$260 million) from the Finance Ministry. The utility wants the funds to cover the costs of European Union carbon allowances for its coal plants and the cost of converting some units from lignite to gas. CE Oltenia claimed it is prepared to pay market rates for the loan after an 18 month interest-free period. In September the utility requested 1.6 billion Romanian leu (US$370 million) to cover its carbon liability, which accounted for 51 per cent of the utility’s turnover. (Romania-Insider)

Turkey reviews fate of polluting coal plants after Presidential veto of bill: Turkey’s Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum is set to meet the utilities that own the 15 coal plants affected by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s veto of a bill that would have pushed the deadline for compliance with pollution standards back by two and a half years. News reports suggest Kurum will reveal that four to six plants will be required to close by January 1, while plants that have installed pollution control equipment will be granted temporary operational licences. The balance of plants may be allowed to continue to operate while preparing for the installation of pollution control equipment. (Daily Sabah)


Playing with fire: An assessment of company plans to burn biomass in EU coal power station, Sandbag, December 2019. (Pdf) (The Executive Summary is here and data in an Excel file for the report is here.)

This 32-page report critically assesses the potential impact on the world’s forests of increasing the use of wood pellets in current or former coal-fired power plants in the European Union. The report argues that the impacts of biomass firing would be significant but the energy generated only equal to the annual increase in EU solar and wind generation.

Victorian Market Readiness to support the early retirement of Yallourn Power Station, Environment Victoria, December 2019. (Pdf)

This 34-page report examines the options for meeting Victoria’s power needs if the increasingly unreliable brown coal-fired Yallourn Power Station retires early in 2023 rather than its current 2029 closure schedule.