February 7, 2019
Issue 262  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

This week Tokyo Gas and two other joint venture partners confirmed they had scrapped their proposed 2000 megawatt (MW) coal plant in Sodegaura City. While the decision had seemed likely for months it is the latest example of some major Japanese companies backing away from new coal plants. In Canada, a fiercely contested plan for a new Vancouver coal export terminal has collapsed following the cancellation of its permit. In Europe, new data reveals that hard coal generation is falling rapidly while lignite generation remains persistently high.

In the US, a coal industry conference was told that it was near impossible for thermal coal projects to attract interest from banks increasingly wary of the sector. In South Africa, FirstRand Bank has ruled out support for at least the current version of the proposed Thabametsi plant. The decision comes at a time that the situation confronting Eskom is worsening rapidly. Faced with an even bigger financial loss this year the utility is proposing to go for even larger price increases than the 15 per cent a year for each of the next three years.

Bob Burton


The futility of the coal industry’s push for new coal power plants

The rapid decline in the cost of renewables illustrates the futility of the coal industry’s push for new coal plants, writes Marek Kubik in Forbes.

A red card for Aon’s climate hypocrisy

Aon, a global insurance broker, is offering to assist coal companies to circumvent the coal exit policies of leading insurers, writes Peter Bosshard, the Coordinator of the Unfriend Coal Campaign.


2000 MW Japanese coal plant axed

Tokyo Gas, Kyushu Electric Power and Idemitsu have announced that they have abandoned a plan to build a 2000 MW coal plant in Sodegaura City in Chiba Prefecture. The project had been challenged by local residents and environmental groups. The three companies said that the coal units had been abandoned as “the project cannot yield initially expected investment returns.” Eleven of the 50 coal units proposed since 2012 have been cancelled and 10 commissioned, and a further 29 are either in the planning or construction stage. Tokyo Gas and Kyushu Electric Power stated that as an alternative to the coal units they would investigate an imported LNG plant though Idemitsu has dropped out of the joint venture. (Kiko Network, Tokyo Gas)

Proposed Canadian coal export port plan scrapped

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has cancelled the permit for the proposed Fraser Surrey Docks coal export facility after the company failed to demonstrate “substantial progress” on the project by the end of November 2018. Fraser Surrey Docks had proposed to export up to four million tonnes of thermal coal a year from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin through the new export terminal. Despite strong community opposition and legal challenges, the project was approved but is thought to have collapsed due to the volatility of the Pacific coal market. (The Tyee)

Top News

Merkel signals support for coal phase-out recommendations: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has signalled her support for the coal commission’s recommendation to shut down all of the country’s coal power units by 2038. Under the agreement, 12,500 MW or 25 per cent of Germany’s total 45,000 MW coal power capacity will close between 2019 and 2022. Another 15,500 MW is slated for closure by 2030. While the commission states the protection of the Hambach forest is “desirable”, the CEO of RWE, Rolf Martin Schmitz, claimed it could cost tens of millions of euros. “One would have to ask oneself how much is a tree worth,” he said. Clearing of the forest was temporarily frozen by a court order in October pending a hearing on a legal challenge by the environment group BUND. (Reuters, Reuters)

African Development Bank concedes new Senegal plant breaches standards: The African Development Bank Group has approved the recommendations of the Independent Review Mechanism triggered by residents’ complaints against the 125 MW Sendou coal plant. Residents argue that the plant, which was commissioned in November 2018, poses a threat to air quality and the employment of hundreds of women at a nearby fish processing plant. The bank concedes that the project, for which funding was approved in 2009, does not comply with its standards and has approved a mitigation plan aimed at “resolving the main concerns raised by the complainants.” (ESI Africa, African Development Bank, 350.org)

Indonesian NGO calls for broader investigation into Central Kalimantan mining permits: Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has named Supian Hadi, the Regent of East Kotawaringin, as a suspect in a case over the allocation of licenses between 2010 to 2012 to three mining companies for projects in Central Kalimantan province. KPK alleges that the government may have missed out on revenue of more than US$415 million. While the three licences were for bauxite, nickel and iron ore projects, the head of the NGO Save Our Borneo, Safrudin Mahendra , has called on the KPK to broaden the investigation into all mining licenses issued after Supian was elected in 2010 as Regent. Safrudin said there are almost 50 mining companies operating in East Kotawaringin including some coal projects. (Mongabay, Jakarta Post)

China’s rising methane emissions likely driven by coal mines: A study in Nature Communications reports that satellite data show that between 2010 and 2015 Chinese methane emissions increased despite regulations aimed at reducing them. Analysts consider the most likely source of growing emissions is coal mining. In 2006, China introduced regulations requiring mines to capture methane and either use it or flare it. However, a loophole allowed methane to be vented if it was less than 30 per cent of the total gas emitted. The study reports anecdotal evidence that mine operators may be diluting gas drained from mines to take advantage of the loophole. (Inside Climate News, Nature Communications)


Australia: NSW coal mining lobby group complaint against Lock the Gate television ad on Hunter Valley coal mining falls flat.

China: Ex-vice chairman of the government of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region pleads guilty to taking bribes including over coal allocations.

India: Ministry of Coal signs MOU with Polish Ministry of Energy to promote trade and investment in the coal sector.

Papua New Guinea: PNG Minister for Energy extols virtues of proposed Lae coal plant after touring Vales Point plant in New South Wales with Mayur Resources.

Poland: Founder of new political party, Spring, vows to “close all coal mines” by 2035 to cut pollution.

Zimbabwe: Mining company director alleges members of key government committee demanded US$400,000 in “facilitation fee” for mining contract at Hwange colliery.

“We are using one credit card to pay for another,”

said Eskom’s Chief Financial Officer, Calib Cassim, at a public hearing on the South African utility’s application for big power price increases for each of the next three years.

Companies + Markets

Another South African bank refuses to back proposed new coal plant: FirstRand Bank has confirmed that in November 2018 it withdrew from supporting the proposed 557 MW Thabametsi project “as currently proposed.” Recently, Standard Bank and Nedbank have confirmed that they would not provide financing to either the Thabametsi project or the 306 MW Khanyisa project. Both projects have been included in the South African Government’s draft integrated resource plan for electricity which is due to be presented to Cabinet later this month. Absa is the only remaining South African bank yet to rule out support for the Thabametsi project. Both the projects are subject to legal challenges by civil society groups. (Daily Maverick)

European hard coal power slumps while lignite hangs on: In 2018, hard coal generation in the European Union fell by nine per cent and is now 40 per cent lower than in 2012, according to a new report. Spain and Germany, which account for three-quarters of Europe’s hard coal generation, are phasing hard coal plants out. The remainder of hard coal power generation is in Poland. However, lignite generation dropped by only three per cent. Germany, which accounts for half of lignite generation capacity in Europe, is likely to commit to a phase-out by 2038 or possibly 2035. The remainder of lignite generation is in countries not covered by coal phase-out plans: Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Slovenia. The report notes that for the first time the cost of coal and the carbon price are on a par with solar and wind generation costs. (Sandbag)

Eskom warns of bigger losses and seeks larger price increases: The Chief Financial Officer of Eskom has revealed that the utility is expected to record a 20 billion rand (US$2.5 billion) loss this financial year due to higher than anticipated maintenance costs and increased diesel generation. Eskom had previously sought a 15 per cent tariff increase for each of the next three years but, facing a higher projected loss, it is now seeking price increases of 17.1 per cent in 2019/20, 15.4 per cent in 2020/21 and 15.5 per cent in 2021/22. Even if the unpopular price increases are granted by the regulator, Eskom estimates it will not make a profit until 2022. (Reuters)

US coal companies feel bank restriction on coal lending: Speaking at a US coal industry conference the President and CEO of Ramaco Resources, Michael Bauersachs, said US banks are very wary of even considering funding for thermal coal projects. Due to concerns about environmental issues, he said, “with large U.S. banks I mean it's virtually impossible to do any business with them.” Ramarco Resources has metallurgical coal projects in West Virginia, Virginia, and Pennyslvania. Bauersachs said that even though there was an argument that there should be consolidation among the loss-making coal companies operating in the Powder River Basin, “access to capital as a whole is still very, very tight.” (S & P Global)

Since 2009, over half of US coal mines have closed: The US Energy Information Administration estimates that the number of active coal mines in the US has plummeted from 1435 in 2008 to 671 mines in 2017. With the domestic coal power demand declining by one-third since 2008, most of the mine closures were of the small, less efficient mines, particularly in Appalachia. While most of the closures have been of underground mines, the largest fall in production has been from open-cut mines. (US Energy Information Administration)

Data reveals Australian coal plants break down on average every three days: A report by the Australia Institute has found that in 2018 coal plants broke down 118 times or once every 3.1 days. The aging brown coal plants in Victoria account for twice as many breakdowns per 1000 MW as black coal plants. However, the newer ‘HELE’ (high efficiency, low emission) coal plants promoted by coal companies broke down more often than the older black coal plants. The Australian Government is attempting to rush through financial support for new and existing coal units ahead of the forthcoming election. Central to its pitch has been the claim that Australia needs more ‘24/7’ generation. (RenewEconomy, Australia Institute)

Australian coal exports to China blocked by new freeze: Platts reports that China has imposed new restrictions on imports of Australian coal at several ports in north-eastern China including Bayuquan, Dandong and Dalian. An anonymous official at Rizhao port in Shandong province said that “there'll be an indefinite delay on custom clearance for all coal of Australian origin.” Restrictions were first imposed on coal imports for November and December. However, a surge in January shipments arriving at ports has prompted a new freeze on Australian cargoes. A Chinese coal trader suggested the delay at some of the affected coal ports could be up to 40 days. (Platts, Platts)


The European Power Sector in 2018, Agora Energiewende and Sandbag, January 2019. (Pdf)

This 44-page report provides a detailed overview of the transformation of the European power sector including data on the shift from coal and lignite to renewables.

Weathering the storm: The case for transformation in the Hunter Valley, Lock the Gate, February 2019. (Pdf)

This 41-page report models the effect on the economy of the NSW Hunter Valley of a 55 per cent fall in coal production by 2040 in line with a 2 degrees maximum temperature increase target and argues the benefits of diversifying the region’s economy would outweigh the losses.