October 10, 2019
Issue 294  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The US coal industry continued its ongoing decline with a major utility accelerating plans to shutter its coal plants, coal giant Murray Energy facing default, and coal-fired generation plummeting in the historically coal-centric southeastern US. The default of Murray is especially notable because the Trump Administration has adopted much of Murray’s CEO’s “wish list” as official policy.

In South Africa the ruling African National Congress party adopted a new energy policy that prioritizes lowest-cost options for energy supply and a larger role for renewables, reflecting public frustration with repeated bailouts of state utility Eskom. Marubeni withdrew from a coal plant expansion in Botswana, and the country announced a long-term solar development plan with Namibia. The African Development Bank announced at the UN Climate Summit that it will no longer finance coal projects.

Coal policy is at the center of this Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Poland, with the governing PiS party introducing legislation that would allow the national government to develop coal mines without the approval of local authorities. In Turkey construction began on EMBA’s long-delayed Hunutlu plant, whose permit is being challenged because the plant is located in a biological preservation zone.

A surge in solar power development suggests that southeast Asia has reached a pivot point on energy. A new study finds that US$71 billion of Japanese coal assets could be at risk as coal becomes increasingly noncompetitive as the economic viability of plants is undermined by cheaper renewables.

James Browning
Guest editor



Can Southeast Asia ditch coal?

When it comes to renewable energy, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been labelled the “worst-performing region.” But change might be afoot. “It’s an absolute pivot point for renewables in Southeast Asia,” according to Tim Buckley, director of energy finance studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “The finances are shifting to green globally. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand will all pivot over the next two years.” Vietnam, for instance, has seen a surge in solar power development in the last year alone, writes Preeti Jha in The Diplomat.

Survivors of coal ash pollution testify against Trump rollback of protections

The Trump Administration wants to severely weaken protections against coal ash pollution by allowing for large, uncontained piles of ash to accumulate and for coal ash to be blended with construction materials. A recent EPA hearing on the Trump proposal included a mother who discovered a cancer cluster in her town and spouses of workers who suffered severe respiratory damage after helping clean up a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008, writes Becky Hammer for NRDC. 

How Britain ended its coal addiction

With the closure of Cottam coal plant and the imminent closure of several plants next year, “The British experience shows that any country can actually [end coal power], it’s just a question of having the policies in place to do it,” says Richard Black in a Financial Times feature by Nathalie Thomas, Leslie Hook, and Chris Tighe.


Growing anti-coal alliance could become non-proliferation treaty for fossil fuel 

The Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) announced an expansion of its membership to include Germany and Slovakia. Established in 2017, PPCA is a multi-stakeholder partnership, co-chaired by the UK and Canada, that comprises state and sub-state governments, businesses and other organizations advocating a global coal phase-out by 2050 at the latest. It now counts 91 members, all committed to working toward a global coal phase-out by ending domestic construction and international financing of new coal plants, and setting a phase-out date for existing ones. Instead of promoting economic incentives for phasing out coal such as carbon pricing, the PPCA promotes an ethics-based approach to phasing out coal-fired power generation, seeking to establish a new international anti-fossil fuel norm.

Top News

African Development Bank (AfDB) commits to coal-free financing: AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina announced at the UN Climate Summit that the bank would no longer fund coal projects, joining the World Bank Group, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the European Investment Bank. AfDB had considered funding the proposed Lamu coal-fired plant in Kenya, which was blocked by the country’s Supreme Court in June. (Devex, Premium Times)

Murray Energy may default on loans: US coal mining company Murray Energy missed several payments that were due to lenders at the end of September and faces a new deadline of October 14 before defaulting. CEO Bob Murray has been a driver of President Trump’s anti-environmental agenda, including a proposal that would have forced regional electricity grids to buy above-market-rate power from coal plants even when cheaper renewable sources were available, but the proposal was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Murray recently idled several of its mines in West Virginia, citing “severely depressed coal markets.” (Environmental Working Group, Yahoo! Finance)

Poland's governing party pushes new pro-coal law in advance of election: The pro-coal Law and Justice (PiS) party introduced legislation that would allow the national government to develop coal mines without the approval of local authorities. Energy Minister Krzyzstof Tchórzewski claimed the legislation was needed to develop the planned Zloczew lignite mine, which environmentalists say would be the country's deepest-ever open-pit mine. Meanwhile, environmental group ClientEarth has filed a lawsuit against Poland’s state-run PGE, the owner of the Belchatow coal-fired power plant in central Poland, calling for PGE to stop burning coal and reduce its carbon emissions to zero by 2035. (Euronews, Reuters)

Egyptian Ministry of Electricity cancels agreement with UAE company to build coal plant in Oyoun Mousa: The Egyptian Ministry of Electricity terminated its agreement with UAE company Al-Nowais to develop the planned 2,400 MW Oyoun Mousa coal plant. The Ministry and Al-Nowais instead agreed to discuss the implementation of renewable power plants with capacities of up to 500 MW. (MENAFM, SourceWatch)

South Africa's ANC party sets new energy policy: South Africa’s governing political party, the African National Congress (ANC), announced a new energy policy that prioritizes lowest-cost options for energy supply and a larger role for renewables. The new policy marks a reversal from May of this year when the ANC’s head of economic transformation argued that South African banks should be forced to invest in the country’s coal mines through pension and retirement funds. “What it means is South Africa’s century-old coal industry becomes decoupled from energy production,” writes Mark Swilling for The Daily Maverick. “The era of the mineral energy complex is over.” The new policy also comes in the wake of a US$3.2 billion government bailout of Eskom, which supplies 90% of the country’s electricity. (Daily Maverick, Reuters)

Construction begins on Turkish plant located in biodiversity protection zone: Emba Elektrik Üretim (EMBA)’s 1,300 MW Hunutlu plant has entered construction after more than a decade of protests and legal challenges. The plant will cost an estimated US$1.7 billion and is largely financed through China’s Shanghai Electric Power, which owns 78% of EMBA. The site is a habitat for the internationally protected loggerhead sea turtle and green turtle. Turkish environmental group TEMA has challenged the legality of the plant’s permit due to the site’s status as a conservation area. (Xinhua, Construction Europe)

Northwest U.S. utility plans transition away from coal: In a major restructuring of its portfolio, PacifiCorp will close two-thirds of its coal units by 2030 and nearly all of its remaining units by 2038. The company also plans to develop 4,600 MW of solar power and 6,400 MW of wind power over the next 20 years. The speed of this transition will depend in part on future interpretations of a 2019 Washington state law calling for the elimination of coal-fired power from the “allocation of electricity.” PacifiCorp also announced that it plans to rely on new gas-fired generation to help replace coal-fired plants. (Seattle Times, GreenTech Media)

Marubeni pulls out of coal power project in Botswana: Marubeni announced that it was withdrawing from a proposed 300-megawatt (MW) expansion of the Morupule B coal-fired plant in Botswana, leaving South Korea’s POSCO as the expansion’s sole sponsor. The Botswana government had earlier refused to provide a US$800 million guarantee to protect the two companies from a future default on power purchase payments. After Marubeni’s withdrawal and a failed attempt to revive the Morupule A coal-fired plant, Botswana is turning increasingly to solar, and last month announced a 20-year 5,000 MW solar development plan with Namibia. (IEEFA, pv magazine, SourceWatch)


Australia: The 700 MW Callide B coal power station will now close in 2028, not 2039 as originally planned by the Australian Energy Market Operator.

Colombia: The Cerrejon coal mine will cut production due to slumping coal prices and may close entirely as a result of a lawsuit blaming the mine for water pollution and food shortages in nearby communities.

Germany: A group of villagers living on the edge of the Gurzweiler coal mine vowed to resist an expropriation order that would force them to sell their properties to energy company RWE.

Indonesia: Hundreds of residents of Winong in Central Java protested the air and water pollution caused by the Cilacap coal-fired plant.

North Korea: Last weekend’s unproductive nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea reportedly included an offer to suspend sanctions on North Korean coal exports in exchange for closing the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

UK: The closure of the 2,000 MW Cottam plant leaves the UK with just six coal-fired plants.

US: Aerial surveillance of the Morgantown coal-fired plant in West Virginia by a nonprofit group revealed improper disposal of coal ash.

US: As part of a long-term plan to decarbonize, Northwest US utility PacifiCorp will retire units at its Jim Bridger coal-fired plant in Wyoming ahead of schedule.

Companies + Markets

Adani’s Australian coal mine shunned by another insurer: LLoyd’s of London insurer Axis Capital withdrew its offer to insure a proposed railway for Adani’s Carmichael mine in Queensland, joining AXA SA, Allianz, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., Munich Re, Swiss Re and local market leader QBE Insurance Group Ltd, which have already confirmed they will not insure Carmichael, according to Market Forces. (IEEFA)

Endesa to close entire Iberian coal fleet: Spanish utility Endesa—a subsidiary of Italian utility company Enel—announced that it would close all of its remaining coal-fired plants in Spain, including the 1,400 MW As Pontes plant and the 1,100 MW Litoral de Almeria plant. The company cited the "profound change in the market conditions" arising from the international price of commodities and the effectiveness of the EU's CO2 Emissions Trading System, "which displaces the plants with the highest volume of emissions to the benefit of other technologies." Endesa’s output from coal plummeted to 0.7 TWh from May through August of this year, down from 7.0 TWh over the same period in 2018. (S&P Global Platts)

China takes small step toward market pricing for coal: China’s existing system of coal tariffs will be replaced by a “base price-plus-floating” system as of January 1, 2020, a change that may lead to more flexible prices but lower profits for power generators. Stocks of coal-fired power producers Huaneng Power, Huadian Power, and Datang International power fell after the announcement of the new policy, which could force energy suppliers to be more responsive to market forces and consumer demand. (Bloomberg)

Declining production for Coal India: India’s state-controlled mining company Coal India’s production fell 6% from April to September, with a month-to-month decline of 23% in September due to heavy rains and flooding. The decline comes as the Indian government continues to divest from the company. In early October a flood in Coal India’s Dipka mine interrupted production and led to an increase in demand for imported coal. Climate change has been linked to an increase in extreme precipitation events in India, especially multi-day deluges that lead to large-scale floods. (Live Mint, e360)


Land of the Rising Sun and Offshore Wind: Carbon Tracker, Carbon Disclosure Project, University of Tokyo, October 2019

This study finds that US$71 billion of Japanese coal assets could be at risk as coal becomes increasingly noncompetitive as the economic viability of plants is undermined by cheaper renewable energy. Japan’s 11,000 MW of coal projects that are currently under construction, permitted, or in pre-permit development comprise US$29 billion of these assets.

Coal-fired Generation in Freefall Across Southeastern U.S.: One-Two Combination of Gas and Solar Is Pushing Historically Dominant Industry Aside: IEEFA, October 2019

This 37-page study finds that solar capacity in the historically coal-dependent region will more than double by 2024 and hasten the decline of coal. The shift is especially notable because utilities such as Tennessee Valley Authority, Southern Company and Duke Energy are vertically integrated, providing both generation and transmission, and have been more resistant to shuttering their coal plants, even as the plants become increasingly uncompetitive compared to alternatives.