August 13, 2020
Issue 334  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

How much do stranded projects cost? How much can a switch to renewables save? A lot it seems, going on mining giant BHP agreeing to spend US$840 million to exit two coal-based power purchase agreements in Chile so it can source cheaper power from renewables. The company has problems on other fronts too, as it struggles to figure out what to do with its two huge but increasingly unloved thermal coal mines.

In Colombia, the whole coal sector is struggling. The Cerrejon mine – jointly owned by BHP, Glencore and Anglo American – has been hit by declining European demand and coal prices. Glencore’s Colombian subsidiary, Prodeco, has taken a US$710 million write-down on mines it is seeking approval to close for up to four years. US coal company Murray Energy has just suspended production at its two Colombian coal mines until at least early next year. These closures will have flow-on effects on the finances of the Colombian Government, which is struggling to control its COVID-19 outbreak with over 10,000 new cases detected a day. While the government began flagging the need for a transition strategy away from reliance on coal export income last year, the recent upheavals have taken most observers by surprise.

In Indonesia, seven new coal plants have been delayed by COVID-19 restrictions on skilled workers. In Cambodia, major clothing manufacturers and a US bicycle company have written to the government warning that new coal plants make the country less attractive due to their policies of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Bob Burton


In Turkey, campaign over coal draws a line in the soot

Plans for a massive expansion of coal plant capacity in Turkey have encountered growing public opposition and economic challenges, writes Selin Ugurtas in Sierra.

India’s ancient tribes struggle to save their forest home from coal mining

A rash of newly approved mines could destroy swathes of the Hasdeo Arand forest, and with it the biodiversity local villagers depend on for survival, writes Brian Cassey in the Guardian.

Top News

Work on seven Indonesian coal plants delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions: Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources has revealed that work on seven coal power plants with a combined capacity of 4810 megawatts (MW) has been delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions and slowing investment in the Indonesian power sector. The ministry said the delays in the projects were due to restrictions on the movement of skilled personnel and materials but hopes they will resume later this year if the COVID-19 outbreak abates and restrictions ease. The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 reported in Indonesia stabilised during July but appears to be increasing again. (Jakarta Post)

US coal company criticises Murray Energy over Ohio scandal: In a court filing the US coal company Consol Energy has accused the bankrupt Murray Energy of not providing creditors with “adequate information” over the US Department of Justice’s criminal complaint and subsequent media reports alleging the company’s involvement in a US$61 million “racketeering and bribery scheme” in Ohio. Consol Energy sold five West Virginia coal mines to Murray Energy in 2013 but is a party to the bankruptcy proceedings due to leasing arrangements and residual healthcare obligations to the miners. In October 2019 Murray Energy filed for bankruptcy protection in a bid to restructure US$2.7 billion in debt. At the time it said it had more than US$8 billion in actual or potential legacy liabilities including employee pensions. Bob Cupp, the new Republican Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, who replaced the Larry Householder after his arrest, has also received campaign contributions from FirstEnergy, the utility at the centre of the scandal. (Columbus Dispatch, Sludge)

Report warns Pakistan’s lignite plants will create water woes: A report has warned that dewatering the Thar lignite mines and intensive use of water for associated power stations will create a severe water shortage in the region leading to reduced livestock, irrigation water and potable water supply. The report also warns the diversion of irrigation water supplies for power station cooling will leave the 1.65 million residents of Thar district dependent on the supply of treated water from the mining and power companies. The author of the report, Paul Winn, noted that no assessment of the environmental, social and economic impacts of this water diversion has been undertaken. (Dawn)

Cambodian Government gives National Park land for new coal plant: The Cambodian Government has decided to grant 168 hectares of the Botum Sakor National Park to the Royal Group for the construction of a proposed 700 MW coal plant. A spokesperson for the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, Seung Sen Karona, expressed concern about the plan and called on the government to release its report on the impact of the proposed plant on residents and the environment. The government’s support for new coal power projects has alarmed some major manufacturers. Adidas, Puma, Gap and bicycle manufacturer Specialized, along with other companies, have written to the government warning that its support for expanding coal power makes Cambodia a “less attractive” place to invest as it goes against their carbon emissions reduction targets. (Phnom Penh Post, Nikkei Asia Review)

German protestors occupy coal plants: Climate activists occupied parts of two coal plants in a protest against the German Government’s decision to phase coal and lignite plants out slowly over the next 18 years. At Vattenfall’s 100 MW Moabit combined heat and power plant in Berlin several activists climbed up the tower of the power plant. At the 2147 MW GKM Mannheim power station operated by RWE, EnBW and MVV, about five activists climbed onto the roof of part of the plant, leading to its closure for the day. (Daily Sabah, Clean Energy Wire)

Report finds Japanese business lobby group blocks clean energy transition: A report by Influence Map, a group of UK policy analysts, argues that the country’s failure to embrace a clean energy transition consistent with the Paris Agreement targets is largely because of the power of the power, steel, fossil fuel, auto and cement industries within the business lobby group, Keidanren. Other industry sectors employ ten times as many people as the energy-intensive sectors but have comparatively little influence with government. The report argues that Keidanren has acted as the central business negotiating group with government for the last two decades and also has close ties with the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which is a strong promoter of coal power at home and abroad. (Reuters)

China arrests owner of illegal coking coal mine: Qinghai provincial officials have arrested Ma Shaowei, the owner of the metallurgical coal mining company Xingqing. A newspaper associated with the state news agency Xinhua reported that Xingqing allegedly made 15 billion yuan (US$2.15 billion) in profits over 14 years from an illegal coal mine in the Qilian Mountains which has been designated as a priority conservation zone. Five local officials have been sacked and are subject to an anti-corruption investigation. (South China Morning Post)


Australia: NSW Resources Regulator prosecutes Whitehaven Coal subsidiaries over 16 alleged breaches of exploration licence conditions including unauthorised track construction and drilling.

Mongolia: Fifty kilometres has been completed of the new 414 km railway to connect the Tavan Tolgoi coal field to Chinese markets.

South Africa: African National Congress MP and former minister Mosebenzi Zwane will not step down despite being named in Eskom legal action over Gupta family coal mine deal.

“Moody's believes that investor concerns about the coal industry's ESG [environmental, social, and governance] profile are intensifying and coal producers will be increasingly challenged by access to capital issues in the early 2020s,”

writes the credit ratings agency Moody’s in an assessment downgrading the outlook of the US coal company Arch Resources.

Moody's downgraded the outlook of the US #coal company Arch Resources warning "investor concerns about the coal industry's ESG profile are intensifying and coal producers will be increasingly challenged by access to capital issues in the early 2020s”

Companies + Markets

Glencore writes down Colombian mines, shutters some Australian mines for several weeks: In its financial report for the first half of 2020 Glencore has reported impairments of US$5.5 billion including US$710 million on its Colombian subsidiary Prodeco and a US$245 million impairment on its share of the Cerrejon joint venture. Prodeco, which exports coal to the rapidly declining European market, is seeking approval from Colombian regulators to suspend operation at its mines for four years. Glencore reports global thermal coal demand in Pacific markets was down by 4.5 per cent and Atlantic market demand was 34 per cent lower than the same period in 2019. Glencore has proposed a two- to three-week shutdown of some coal mines in the New South Wales Hunter Valley and central Queensland during the September school holidays in a bid to cut Australian thermal coal production by seven million tonnes in 2020. It is estimated that up to 10,000 mine workers will be asked to take annual leave. (Argus, Glencore [Pdf])

Murray Energy shutters Colombian mine: Colombian coal mining company CNR, a subsidiary of the US-based Murray Energy, suspended production at its La Francia and El Hatillo coal mines on July 31 due to the slump in export market prices, higher mining costs and COVID-19 control measures. An employee of the coal railway operator, Fenoco, said the company currently doesn’t expect to resume production until January 2021. In 2019 CNR produced about 4 million tonnes of thermal coal. Analysts estimate Colombian coal exports could fall by between 8 and 20 million tonnes in 2020. Declining coal production will affect the central government revenue with Prodeco paying 243 billion Colombian pesos (US$68 million) and CNR 74 billion Colombian pesos (US$20 million) in royalties. The shutdowns come as unions at the Cerrejon coal mines, Colombia’s largest mine, conduct a ballot on whether to strike after contract negotiations reached a stalemate. (Argus, Economic Times, Montel)

BHP agrees to stump up US$840 million to end Chilean coal power contracts: BHP has agreed to pay US$840 million to AES Gener, a subsidiary of the US-headquartered AES Corporation, for the early termination of power purchase agreements for its Escondida and Spence copper mines and processing plants in Chile. The agreements were tied to generation from AES Gener’s 558 MW Angamos coal plant, which was first commissioned in 2011, and were due to run until 2026 and 2029. The agreements will now be terminated on August 8, 2021. Mining companies in Chile are shifting their power supply to cheaper renewables. AES Gener plans to invest US$200 million from the proceeds in new renewables capacity and will continue to operate the Angamos plant to sell power on the spot market until the plant closes when no longer needed to stabilise the grid. (Renewables Now, BNAmericas)

Doubts states will benefit from Indian coal auctions: The Indian Government has pushed back the deadline for auctioning coal blocks with technical bids now due to be submitted by September 29. The actual auctions are currently scheduled to run between October 19 and November 9. An analysis of the terms set by the central government suggests the economic returns to the states will be far less than the 150 rupees (US$2) per tonne floor price on auctions undertaken between 2015 and 2018. While the government justified the auctions as an opportunity to attract companies with superior technical expertise in mining, the requirement in earlier auctions for bidders to have mining experience has been removed. The impact of COVID-19 is also likely to reduce interest in the auctions. (Business Standard, Scroll)

Adani’s mixed messages on participation in Indian coal block auctions: The Chief Financial Officer for the Adani Group, Jugeshinder Singh, told an analysts conference call that the company would not participate in the Indian Government’s auctioning of coal blocks unless it was for “mining services”. Adani currently operates coal power plants and ports, and undertakes contract mining for NTPC. Shortly after Singh ruled out “commercial coal (mining)” the company issued a statement that it would be “open to participate in the auctions” depending on demand for coal and “opportunities offered by the government.” On the call Singh said coal-related businesses “are becoming an increasingly insignificant part of the group’s portfolio” and described the company’s controversial Carmichael coal project in Australia as “a support business for Adani Power.” (Reuters)

Technical problems plagued mothballed US CCS plant: A technical report submitted to the US Department of Energy in March by NRG Energy revealed that the Petra Nova carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant in Texas suffered outages on 367 days since it was commissioned in January 2017. A quarter of the outrages occurred with the CCS plant and the remainder with the gas plant unit used to power it. The CCS plant was designed to capture one-third of the carbon dioxide emissions from one 615 MW unit at the 2736 MW lignite-fired Parish Generating Station. Over the first three years of operation the CCS plant captured 3.8 million short tons (3.4 million tonnes) of carbon dioxide, 17 per cent less than the 4.6 million short tons (4.2 million tonnes) it was intended to capture. (Reuters, Energy and Policy Institute)

Japan begins discussion on coal closures: Japan's powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has formally launched discussions to design a regulatory framework to phase out the operation of “inefficient” coal plants by 2030, a move critics argue is aimed at supporting the market for new integrated gasification combined cycle and ultra-supercritical plants and a revival of the nuclear sector. The “efficient” coal plants promoted by METI generate about 10 per cent more power for the same amount of coal as an inefficient plant. (Argus, Japan Times, Reuters)


Japanese Industry Groups and Climate Policy: Corporate Influencing of Japan's Climate and Energy Choices, Influence Map, August 2020. (Pdf)

This 37-page report investigates the influence of the Japanese business lobby group, Keidanren. It finds that the Japan Iron and Steel Federation and the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan play the most negative role in terms of Japanese climate policy.

Divestment vs Sterilisation: What to Do With BHP’s Stranded Coal Assets, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, August 2020. (Pdf)

This 33-page report details the strategic, financial and rehabilitation challenges BHP faces as it struggles to sell its Mt Arthur and Cerrejon thermal coal mines.

Transboundary Air Pollution in the Jakarta, Banten, and West Java provinces, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, August 2020. (Pdf) (The report is also available in Bahasa Indonesian here.)

This 34-page report investigates the impact on air quality of Jakarta from pollution originating from the surrounding provinces and their coal power stations in particular.

“The making of green steel in the EU: a policy evaluation for the early commercialization phase”, Climate Policy, August 11, 2020.

This article assesses policy options for supporting “green steel” production in the European Union and proposes production subsidies supplemented by electricity price guarantees and transitional assistance policies for disadvantaged regions.