August 27, 2020
Issue 336  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

A bill proposing to ban South Korean government agencies’ involvement in new or existing coal projects is tipped to pass the National Assembly when it is put to a vote in September. South Korea is one of the largest supporters of new international coal plants. Meanwhile the country’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy is lobbying for coal power generators to be exempt from the country’s carbon price. South Korean utilities have challenges on other fronts too, with KEPCO listed as one of 17 companies dropped from the investment list of Storebrand, a major Norwegian pension fund.

Elsewhere in Asia, the head of Cambodia’s union movement has called on the government to support renewables after international clothing and footwear brands warned proposed coal plants would make the country less attractive for investment. In Thailand, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand is seeking to cut costs by reducing overcapacity, potentially through early retirement of some plants, while one power company wants a delay on the construction of new units at an existing lignite plant.

The upheaval in the steel sector caused by COVID-19 has resulted in a Polish metallurgical coal producer revealing a big loss for the first half of the year, in large part due to the downturn in European still demand in the first half of this year. In Canada, the share price of Teck Resources slumped by 10 per cent after the Canadian Government announced a major new metallurgical coal project would be subject to federal review due to potential impacts on the rights of First Nations and the environment.

Bob Burton


Fashion's reliance on dirty coal exposed

The fashion industry is not doing nearly enough to shift away from coal and other fossil fuels in the supply chain, writes Rachel Ceransky in Vogue Business.

Survival is anything but certain for US coal country

Despite a steady flow of data and warnings from experts, the communities of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin have not prepared for structural decline of the coal industry, write Dustin Bleizeffer and Mason Adams in Energy News Network. (This article is one in a six-part series on the transition for coal communities in Wyoming and Appalachia.)

Top News

South Korean bill banning support for overseas coal plants likely to pass: A bill proposing a ban on South Korean public agencies from involvement in the financing, construction or operation of new or existing coal plants overseas is tipped pass the National Assembly in September and take effect immediately. The bill would affect the power utility KEPCO, the Korea Development Bank, the Export-Import Bank of Korea and Korea Trade Insurance Corporation. Later this month the board of KEPCO will vote on whether to proceed with a 220 billion won (US$185 million) investment in the 1200 megawatt (MW) Vung Ang 2 coal plant in Vietnam. In June KEPCO voted to invest in the consortium building the 2000 MW Jawa 9 and 10 coal plant in Indonesia. (Korean Investors)

Cambodian union leader expresses concern about coal power plans: The President of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, Ath Thun, has warned that a recent letter by major companies in the footwear and clothing industries including Nike, Adidas and H&M about Cambodia’s coal power plans should force an energy policy rethink by the government. Cambodia recently approved a new 700 MW coal plant on land in a national park and has signed power purchase agreements with two proposed coal plants in neighbouring Laos which have a combined capacity of 2400 MW. “Now that they have raised this concern, I think the government should reconsider its source of energy by looking into greener energy,” Ath Thun said. Cambodia’s garment industry is already reeling from a decision by the European Union to revoke its duty free and quota free status due to recent government actions curtailing democratic rights and breaches of international human rights standards. (Radio Free Asia)

Canadian Government to review of new Teck Resources project: The Canadian Government has agreed to subject Teck Resources’ proposed Castle Project in British Columbia to federal environmental review. The government announced the review because of the scale of the proposed project and likely impacts on indigenous rights and as a source of transboundary pollution affecting US waters. According to Teck, the Castle Project would sustain production of metallurgical coal from its Fording River mine at about 10 million tonnes a year for “several decades”. The decision follows the recent release of a US Geological Survey report that found that selenium emissions in the Elk River catchment, which hosts Teck’s existing coal mines and flows into Montana, have exceeded British Columbia guidelines since 1993. Indigenous groups, NGOs and the US Environment Protection Agency had requested a federal environmental review of the Castle Project. (The Narwhal, US Geological Survey, Government of Canada)

Lawsuit against US utility over Ohio scandal: A potential class action filed by law firm Bernstein Liebhard on behalf of investor Diana Nickerson has been launched against American Electric Power (AEP) and its senior executives, alleging investors who bought company shares between November 2016 and July 2020 were “economically damaged” by the company’s role in the scandal revealed after the arrest of the former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder. The lawsuit alleges AEP was the sole funder of Empowering Ohio’s Economy, a group that gave US$350,000 to two other dark money groups: the Coalition for Opportunity & Growth and Generation Now. The coalition campaigned for the election of Householder and his supporters while the second group successfully campaigned for legislation referred to as HB6, which provided a US$1.3 billion bailout for two nuclear plants and support for two AEP coal plants facing closures. (Cleveland, Bernstein Liebhard)

Traditional owners block access to Adani’s Carmichael mine site: Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners opposing Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine blocked road access to the areas for construction workers employed on the project. Adrian Burragubba from the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council said they had “re-established tribal control” of 1385 hectares of native title land the Queensland Government reallocated last year to Adani as freehold land for the mine. In late 2019 Adani was granted a Supreme Court order allowing police to remove Burragubba and his son from the mine site. (Guardian)

Indian Government plans another two-year deadline extension for polluting coal plants: The Secretary of India’s Ministry of Environment, R C Gupta, will grant a further two-year extension to coal plants required to comply with the installation of flue gas desulphurisation units by December 2022. Gupta said that the impacts of COVID-19 and India’s intention to block the use of Chinese equipment after recent deadly border clashes meant that a delay was based on “genuine” concerns but the details were yet to be finalised. The Ministry of Power argued an estimated 70 per cent of the 330 coal units with over 100,000 MW of capacity would not meet the deadline. NGOs have criticised the Modi Government for its failure to enforce the deadline which was first adopted in December 2015 with a compliance deadline of December 2017. (Economic Times)

US agency declines to issue COVID-19 standards for miners: The US Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has declined to issue an emergency COVID-19 standard to protect coal miners arguing that the agency has “determined it lacks evidence that COVID-19 poses a grave risk specific to miners.” MSHA argued that states with the highest number of coal miners have comparatively low rates of COVID-19. However, Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia said miners were particularly susceptible to a respiratory illness. The MSHA confirmed there have been 188 mines that have reported instances of COVID-19. A Murray Energy mine in West Virginia was recently reported as having four cases of COVID-19. (WFPL)

Report finds Australian coal plants kill almost 800 a year: A report for Greenpeace Australia estimates Australia’s aging fleet of 22 coal plants is responsible for 785 premature deaths a year and results in 845 babies being born prematurely. Modelling for the report also indicated air pollution from coal plants was responsible for about 14,000 annual incidences of asthma attacks in children and young adults aged between 5 and 19. The report estimates AGL, Origin Energy and Energy Australia account for 36.5 per cent of PM2.5, 40.5 per cent of sulphur dioxide, 40.5 per cent of all nitrogen dioxide and 46.1 per cent of all mercury emissions from coal-burning power stations in Australia. (Brisbane Times)

Chile ponders bill to end coal power by 2025: The environmental committee of Chile’s lower chamber of Parliament has supported a bill calling for a shutdown of coal power plants by 2025. The bill also proposes all coal plants that have operated for over 30 years be closed immediately. Supporters of the bill have emphasised the pollution costs borne by local communities and the need for Chile to meet its Paris Agreement obligations. Chile’s energy regulator, CNE, opposes the bill arguing it would increase costs and risks to the grid. In mid-2019 Chile’s conservative president Sebastian Pinera said eight of the country’s 28 plants would close by 2024 and the remainder by 2040 on a schedule determined by the power utilities. (Bnamericas)


Australia: High Court rejects bid by New Acland Coal to require landowners group to post A$90,000 (US$65,000) in security before hearing its appeal.

Australia: Study finds unborn babies exposed to smoke from Hazelwood mine fire had an increased risk of respiratory infections between two and four years old.

Botswana: Botswana and Namibia set to sign agreement on up to 5000 MW of solar capacity to reduce power imports from Eskom.

Colombia: Members of Sintracarbon, the largest union at the Cerrejon coal mine, have overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action over pay and conditions.

Finland: Proposal to convert the Hansaari coal plant site into an arts hub after closure in 2024.

India: Discussions continue with Russia over potential to increase metallurgical coal imports as an alternative to Australian supplies.

Philippines: COVID-19 outbreak among Masinloc coal plant workers originated with welder.

South Africa: Eskom has issued a request for proposals for 2000–3000 MW of emergency power by June 2022 to reduce blackout risks.

Turkey: Crew of coal carrier detained after 25 kilograms of cocaine discovered in container on hull.

US: Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis disputes the viability of a proposed carbon capture and storage plant for the 400 MW Unit 4 at the Dave Johnston coal plant in Wyoming.

Companies + Markets

South Korean power sector lobbies to escape carbon price: South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) is lobbying to exclude the power sector from inclusion in the next phase of the country’s emissions trading scheme which runs from 2021 to 2025. MOTIE argues that including coal power plants in the scheme will impact power prices. South Korea has over 36,000 MW of coal capacity and is the fourth largest thermal coal importer in the world, buying an estimated 99 million tonnes in 2019. (Argus)

Norwegian pension fund dumps more coal utilities: Storebrand, the largest Norwegian private pension fund, has sold US$17.9 billion of investments it held in 27 companies that were deemed incompatible with its new climate policy. Under the new policy, Storebrand has excluded investments in companies that earn over five per cent of revenue from coal as well as companies that “actively lobby against the Paris Agreement and climate regulation.” Of the 27 new companies excluded, 17 were because their coal income exceeded the five per cent threshold and the US-based Southern Company was dumped because of its lobbying activities. Companies excluded because of their coal exposure included Japanese utilities Mitsui and Chubu Electric Power, KEPCO, the Thai company RATCH Group, Russia’s Inter RAO and the UK-headquartered steel and mining company Evraz. (Financial Times, Storebrand [Pdf])

Thai utility under pressure as COVID-19 results in overcapacity: The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) is planning to cut the power generation reserve from the current 40 per cent to 15 per cent to reduce the high costs of electricity. EGAT is proposing to decommission some older generation capacity, boosting power use in the agricultural sector and potentially increasing exports to Myanmar and Cambodia. Kijja Sripatthangkura, the CEO of the RATCH Group, which is part owned by EGAT, suggested the utility should defer construction work on new power plants including the lignite-fired Mae Moh Plant. In early 2019, EGAT approved a 655 MW replacement for the existing Unit 8 and Unit 9 at the plant. Earlier this year the Ministry of Energy flagged that EGAT’s controversial plans for the 800 MW Krabi plant and the 2200 MW Thepa plant in the country’s south could be further delayed due to the impact of the COVID-19 downturn. (Bangkok Post, Bangkok Post)

COVID-19 demand slump hits finances of Polish metallurgical coal producer: The JSW Group, which is owned by the Polish Government and is the largest producer of metallurgical coal in the European Union, has reported a loss of 973.8 million zloty (US$260 million) for the first half of 2020. JSW attributed the profit slump to a 30 per cent fall in the price of metallurgical coal and a 31 per cent fall in the price of coke. The company reports that since COVID-19 restrictions came into effect in March, steel production fell by 18.7 per cent in Europe and six per cent globally with the car industry significantly impacted. The poor financial result came as the Polish Government is canvassing options on how to restructure the country’s coal sector. (JSW)

US construction supplies company hit by decline in coal ash: A major Australian construction supplies company has recorded an impairment of A$1223 million (US$878 million) on its US division in part because of reduced fly ash supplies caused by coal power plant closures. Boral uses coal ash in cement and other building products. In 2017, Boral bought the US-based building materials company Headwaters for US$2.6 billion in large part for its national fly ash processing and distribution business. Two years ago Boral’s then CEO, Mike Kane, proclaimed that “fly ash is an extraordinary opportunity for us in the US over the next several decades.” (Boral [Pdf])


Fashion Forward: A Roadmap to Fossil Free Fashion,, August 2020.

This 32-page report argues that fashion industry has made little progress in eliminating coal power and fossil fuel use out of manufacturing supply chains especially in countries such as China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Turkey.

Lethal Power: How Burning Coal is Killing People in Australia, Greenpeace Australia, August 2020. (Pdf)

This 44-page report details the health impacts of pollution from Australia’s fleet of coal power stations.

Great Expectations: Asia, Australia and Europe Leading Emerging Green Hydrogen Economy, but Project Delays Likely, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, August 2020.

This 38-page report reviews 50 proposed ‘green hydrogen’ projects around the world finds significant financial and other hurdles remain for the emerging sector. Green hydrogen offers the prospect of decarbonising sectors of the economy such as steel production.