November 16, 2017
Issue 208  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) annual Energy Outlook report is out but, despite signalling the need for an energy transformation, it continues to assume renewables will stagnate, coal will decline and gas power boom. China, it seems, may not have received the memo. An influential Chinese advisory body is pushing for no new coal plants to be approved and a massive increase in the official 2020 solar target.

The launch of the Beyond Coal Europe campaign has helped galvanise pressure at the UN climate conference in Germany to formally recognise the need to phase out coal plants. Ahead of the talks the global utility Iberdrola announced it is seeking the closure of its last two coal plants, both of which are in Spain.

Despite India experiencing a week of extreme air pollution, the national government remains in deep denial, having recently delayed new pollution standards developed over the last four years for coal plants and other industry sectors. In South Africa, Eskom — which has been wracked with a growing governance scandal — is in financial meltdown. In India, the duration of power purchase agreements for coal plants has more than halved in the last two years, making it difficult for new projects to attract loans. Adani Enterprises has revealed why it is financially stuck: it can get finance for the Carmichael mine but can’t afford to write off what it has spent so far on the project without jeopardising the parent company.

Bob Burton


The IEA gets it wrong on renewables again

The IEA has been dramatically underestimating the growth of renewables in every one of the last 15 editions of its World Energy Outlook, writes Lauri Myllyvirta in Greenpeace’s Unearthed.

People power will move Europe beyond coal

Just as coal plant pollution crosses borders, the success of the Beyond Coal campaigns in the US and in Europe will be a crucial element is avoiding the worst of the climate crisis, write Mary Anne Hitt and Bruce Nilles from the Sierra Club in Ecowatch.

Despite global climate talks, a German village is demolished to make way for coal

As the UN climate talks progress in Bonn, an hour away the village of Immerath is being demolished to allow for the expansion of RWE’s Garzweiler lignite mine which feeds the company’s nearby power plants, write Griff Witte and Luisa Beck in the Washington Post.

Coal price rise a harsh blow to Asian budgets

The dramatic rise in the international spot price of thermal coal over the last year may put a multibillion-dollar dent in current accounts of countries including Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines, writes Tim Buckley from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis in Asia Times.

Top News

German court to hear Peruvian landowner’s claim against RWE: The Higher District Court of Hamm is prepared to hear a claim of a mountain guide from Peru alleging that RWE is partly responsible for damage to the global climate. The case was originally blocked by a lower court. At a November 30 hearing it is expected a schedule will be determined to submit evidence on whether RWE greenhouse gas emissions have partly contributed to the increased flood risk to the city of Huaraz from the melting of a nearby glacier. (Guardian, Germanwatch)

Bloomberg campaign goes global: Michael Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and a UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, will contribute US$50m to extend the Beyond Coal campaign to Europe and eventually Asia. Coal burning accounts for about 20 per cent of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, with Germany and Poland the largest emitters and Turkey seeking to dramatically expand power generation based on domestic lignite resources. (Guardian, Bloomberg Philanthropies)

German parties negotiate over how many coal plants to close: Armin Laschet, who is one of the members of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party (CDP) negotiating a coalition agreement with the Greens and Free Democrats (FD), has flagged that coal mining in Germany could come to an end in “the thirties”. The CDP and the FD have reportedly proposed the closure of 3000–5000 megawatts (MW) of coal plants by 2020 while the Greens argue that meeting the national greenhouse gas reduction target requires closure of 8000–10,000 MW of capacity by 2020. (Climate Home News, Reuters)

Extreme pollution fuels delay and denial in India: Despite a growing air pollution crisis affecting Delhi and northern India, the national government has delayed the introduction of pollution control standards for industrial emissions and power plants for four years. During the latest crisis the National Capital Territory of Delhi has blamed the burning of crop stubble. However, monitoring data shows that while agricultural burning is a short-term contributor to poor air quality, the growth in year-round emissions from the industrial sector —including power plants — have been more significant. (Scroll, Times of India)

Engie to face trial over Australian mine fire: Four subsidiaries of Engie will face trial in August 2018 over the 45-day Hazelwood mine fire which blanketed parts of the Latrobe Valley with extreme air pollution in early 2014. Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority has charged the companies with a range of offences including that pollution from the fire was harmful or potentially harmful to people. An inquiry into the fire determined that the air pollution probably contributed to the deaths of some residents. The companies have pleaded not guilty. (ABC News, Environmental Protection Authority)

Study flags potential health risk with ash from high-uranium coals: A study by US and Chinese scientists has concluded that coal ash produced as a by-product from burning coal with over 10 parts per million of uranium is “not suitable” for reuse in building materials as it could pose a health risk. The study of coal from 57 locations in China found radiation levels in coal ash was 43 times higher than the maximum safe limit established for residential building materials by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. Coal ash is widely used globally in wallboard, bricks, and other building materials. (Duke University, Environmental Science & Technology)


Australia: Wollongong Coal fined A$40,000 for failing to pay A$288,000 debt to NSW Government.

Greece: Legal challenge filed against ten-year environmental permits for 600 MW Megalopoli coal plant.

India: Ministry of Environment defers consideration of Goa coal port expansion due to pollution and public opposition.

India: Sulphur dioxide emissions in India have climbed by 50 per cent since 2005.

Italy: Government unveils new energy strategy with closure of 8000 MW of coal plants by 2025.

Myanmar: Villagers protest against 1280 MW plant for Hpa-an in Kayin state proposed by Thai company.

US: Duke Energy edited reports by “independent” professor on impact of coal ash groundwater pollution.

Vietnam: KEPCO signs contract to build US$2.3 billion 1200 MW Nghi Son 2 coal plant.

Companies + Markets

Chinese energy think tank urges coal freeze and huge solar boost: The China National Renewable Energy Centre, an advisory agency to the National Energy Administration (NEA), has recommended that no new coal plants be approved and the 2020 solar target be increased from 105,000 MW to 200,000 MW. The 2020 solar target was passed in August. The NEA has also announced it aims to end the curtailment of renewable energy by 2020, which in some provinces accounts for up to 30 per cent of wind generation and 20 per cent of solar power. (PV Tech, Reuters)

Renewables cost falls undercut appetite for coal power: India’s state-owned power-trading company PTC India says that in the last two years power distribution companies have stopped signing 25-year thermal power purchase agreements and now opt for contracts of 10 years or less. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that new coal plants in India designed to comply with the new emissions standards can’t compete with wind and solar prices achieved in the latest reverse auctions. (Bloomberg, Bloomberg New Energy Finance)

Adani’s finances grow even shakier: The half-yearly report of Adani Enterprises, the parent company of the proposed Carmichael mine in Australia, reveals that profitability of the company is falling while debt — which now stands at US$3.83 billion — is growing rapidly. The publicly listed company now has a book value of only US$2.4 billion, with the proposed Carmichael coal mine listed as an asset worth US$1.5 billion. Without a loan from the Australian Government, the mine would be unviable and would have to be written off or sold. Without coal from the mine, the associated Abbot Point coal terminal, which Adani has under a long-term lease, would also be unviable. (Guardian)

Iberdrola seeks to close last three coal units: Ahead of the UN climate conference in Bonn the global power utility Iberdrola announced it is seeking the approval of Spain’s Ministry of Energy to close to the company’s last two remaining coal plants. The 358 MW unit at the Lada power station was commissioned in 1981 and the two units at the Velilla plant were commissioned in 1967 and 1984 respectively. If the closures are approved by the ministry and the grid operator, Iberdrola will have closed 4841 MW of coal plants since 2012. (Iberdrola,  Platts)

Eskom scandals have crippled the utility’s fundraising ability: Eskom’s latest quarterly report to the South African Minister for Public Enterprises, Lynne Brown, reveals that the utility is facing a financial crisis as concerns over poor governance have undermined its ability to raise additional funding. Declining power demand has also undercut revenue. The report flags that Eskom’s cash reserves will be depleted by the end of January 2018 and the company will need to make substantial cuts to capital spending until additional funds have been raised. While Eskom is seeking approval for a 19.9 per cent tariff increase for the 2018/19 financial year, a task force that includes Treasury is reported to be considering a bailout for the stricken utility. (Fin24, Times Live)

US coal bailout faces uncertain future: Alison Silverstein, the author of the US Department of Energy’s recent grid reliability study, told a University of Chicago seminar it was expected her report would blame regulation of coal plants as the cause of their retirement. Mostly, she said, they were “really old, and really inefficient, and they had earned their AARP [American Association of Retired Persons] cards.” Despite her report, the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Rick Chatterjee, is aiming to unveil an “interim” plan to provide financial support for stressed coal and nuclear plants. FirstEnergy, an energy utility, and Murray Energy, a private coal company, have lobbied the Trump Administration to help the coal industry and associated utilities. (Forbes, Utility Dive)

EU revises carbon emissions trading scheme with gifts for coal: European Union (EU) negotiators have rejected a proposed ban on funding for coal plant upgrades from the Modernisation Fund established as a part of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. As a compromise, negotiators agreed to allow funding for upgrading coal plants that involve district heating schemes in only the poorest EU countries. The agreed threshold will potentially allow projects in Romania and Bulgaria to be funded but exclude Poland. However, the Greens and environmental groups expressed dismay that funding will not be directed to financing a clean energy transition. (EUObserver, Euractiv)


Coal in Germany, Clean Energy Wire, November 14, 2017.

This factsheet provides a well-referenced overview of the key issues on coal power in Germany.

“The Brothers Who Bought South Africa”, Bloomberg, November 9, 2017.

A detailed overview of the controversy in South Africa over the Gupta family’s “state capture” and how deals over coal contracts and Eskom have been at the centre of the scandal.

World Energy Outlook-2017: Executive Summary, International Energy Agency (IEA), November 2017. (The full report costs €108 for a Pdf copy.)

The IEA’s annual energy overview, despite its limited view of renewables growth, flags the decline of coal.

Coal transitions in China’s power sector: A plant-level assessment of stranded assets and retirement pathways, Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, November 2017. (Pdf)

This 26-page report estimates current policies in China could cause up to US$90 billion in stranded assets in the coal power sector.