February 13, 2020
Issue 309  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The big news of the week is that the rapid fall in coal use in the US and European Union countries has underpinned global greenhouse gas emissions flat-lining. In Poland, the government is contemplating whether the proposed 1000 megawatt (MW) Ostroleka plant should switch from running on coal to gas. This comes as the Polish Government faces domestic opposition to new lignite mines and alarm by the Czech Republic at likely impacts from a mine just across its border.

A new study has also highlighted the potential rapid health impacts from exposure to micro-particles caused by exposure to air pollution from coal plants and in coal ash. In India, the Central Pollution Control Board has threatened to cancel the operating licence of operators who have breached the December 2019 deadline for complying with new pollution standards.

In Australia, the South Korean utility KEPCO has written off US$432 million on the proposed Bylong coal project which was rejected by an independent planning commission. This comes as Adani Australia plead guilty to misleading a Queensland Government agency over land clearing for its proposed Carmichael mine. In India, plans by Adani and other coal companies to mine the Hasdeo Arand forest are being opposed by affected communities.

Bob Burton


Indian villagers struggle to save their forest home from mining

Villagers are campaigning against coal mines proposed by Adani and other companies that would swallow their homes and large areas of the Hasdeo Arand forest in central India, writes Brian Cassey in the Guradian.

Top News

Decline in coal use flattens 2019 greenhouse gas emissions: The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that in 2019 global carbon dioxide emissions from coal use declined by 1.3 per cent compared to 2018. This represents a fall of almost 200 million tonnes. The IEA estimates that emissions from advanced economies fell by over 370 million tonnes, with the power sector responsible for 85 per cent of the decline. Coal generation in advanced economies fell by 15 per cent due to increased renewables, coal-to-gas switching in the US and increased nuclear generation in Japan and China. (International Energy Agency)

Polish coal mines stir domestic and Czech resistance: Plans by the state-owned utility PGE to build a new open-cut lignite mine to extend the life of the Belchatow power station has sparked a backlash from the 3000 farmers and residents of the 30 villages that would be demolished. The campaign against the new mine comes as growing public concern about Poland’s poor air quality has increased pressure on the pro-coal government to revise their energy strategy. The Polish Government is also facing pressure from the Czech Republic over its approval for the expansion of the Turow mine. Czech authorities have expressed alarm that the mine, which could extend to within one kilometre of a Czech village, will dramatically reduce the water table and leave up to 30,000 people reliant on new water supplies. (Al Jazeera, Radio Prague International)

Adani Australia convicted of misleading environmental regulator over land clearing: Following a complaint by Coast and Country, Adani Australia has pleaded guilty to misleading the Queensland Department of Environment and Science by claiming in its 2018 Annual Return that it had not cleared any land for its Carmichael coal mine. Coast and Country supplied the regulator with satellite imagery demonstrating land clearance. Adani plead guilty to the offence but claimed that it self-reported that it had cleared 5.8 hectares of land. The company was convicted of breaching the Environment Protection Act and fined A$20,000 (US$13,460). The Environment Defenders Office argued that the conviction should trigger Siemens to end its contract with Adani to supply railway switching equipment for the project. (Guardian, Environmental Defenders Office)

Ramaphosa orders investigation of Eskom contracts: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), a specialist unit tasked with investigating public sector maladministration, to investigate Eskom’s coal purchasing, coal transportation and a range of other services. Ramaphosa’s proclamation in the Government Gazette also specifically referred to two contracts for engineering and project management consulting services. According to a June 2017 report by the Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr the contracts were awarded to Impulse International for work on Eskom’s Majuba and Matla coal plants. Between March and September 2016 the step-daughter of Matshela Koko, the then head of Eskom’s generation division, was a director of Impulse International and was a major shareholder in the company. (Special Investigations Unit [p.20, Pdf])

India’s environment regulator flags closures over pollution violations: India’s Central Pollution Control Board has written to the operators of 15 coal plants giving 15 days to show reason why specified coal units should not be shut down for failing to comply with a December 2019 deadline for the installation of flue gas desulphurisation units. Nine of the plants are around New Delhi; the remainder are in southern states. Vedanta was one of the operators given notice and was asked to explain why the three units at the 1980 MW Talwandi Sabo Power plant in Punjab should not be shut down. In December 2015 new pollution standards were announced with a compliance deadline of December 2017, which was extended until between December 2019 and 2022 after lobbying by power utilities. The 15 plants account for about seven per cent of India’s coal capacity. (Reuters)

Study finds lung damage in mice from exposure to nanoparticles from coal-burning: In a paper published in the journal Frontiers of Immunology a team led by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University of researchers reports that titanium suboxide nanoparticles in air pollution and ash from coal plants could cause lung damage in mice after a single exposure. The researchers also found long-term damage to mice could occur after six weeks exposure. The study, which recommended further research on the impact of the particles, suggested that people exposed to the particles daily could be more susceptible to viral or bacterial infections and increased symptoms associated with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (ScienceDaily, Frontiers in Immunology)

Indian agency approves 30-year extension of major coal mine: The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Indian Government’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has approved a 30-year extension for the environmental permit for Coal India’s Dipka mine in Chhattisgarh. The mine, which is on the floodplains of the Lilagar River, was flooded last year but this was not mentioned in the EAC minutes. Local groups argued against the extension of the mine permit as Coal India had breached environmental conditions causing both air and water pollution. The mine has a proposed capacity of 35 million tonnes a year, making it one of the largest in India. (Hindustan Times)


Botswana: Minister for Mines talks up prospects for a coal-to-liquids plant and a 100 MW coal seam gas power station.

Cambodia: Cabinet approves two proposed coal plants with a combined capacity of 975 MW.

Mongolia: Government bans coal exports to China until March 2 to limit coronavirus spread.

North Korea: Draft UN report alleges North Korea exported US$370 million of coal in 2019 despite sanctions and that the trade has been facilitated by the use of Chinese barges.

UK: Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole granted right to a judicial review of Cumbria County Council’s decision to approve the Woodhouse Colliery metallurgical coal mine.

US: Judge rules Indiana’s environmental agency broke its own public comment rules in issuing air pollution permit for Riverview Energy’s proposed US$2.5 billion coal-to-diesel plant.

US: Secretary of Energy announces US$64 million in grants for coal projects.

“The possibility of offshore wind becoming cheaper than coal, gas and nuclear in most major countries is a question of when rather than if,”

says Wood Mackenzie, an energy industry consultancy.

Companies + Markets

Korean utility writes off stalled Australian coal mine: In a statement to the South Korean stock exchange, the state-owned utility KEPCO has revealed that it has written off A$642 million (US$432 million) on the proposed Bylong coal mine in New South Wales. In 2010 KEPCO paid A$400 million (US$269 million) for the mining rights for the project and spent a further A$115 million (US$77 million) buying up 13,000 hectares of agricultural land. In September 2019 the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) rejected the proposed Bylong mine in part due to its climate impacts. While the company has written off the value of the project, it has yet to abandon the proposal and is currently appealing against the IPC decision. (Newcastle Herald)

Polish Government ponders fuel switch to gas for proposed Ostroleka plant: Poland’s minister responsible for strategic energy infrastructure, Piotr Naimski, stated that a decision could be made soon on the possibility of switching the fuel source for the controversial 1000 MW Ostroleka plant from coal to gas. The coal plant proposal has been criticised by analysts as unviable and opposed by environmental groups which have launched legal challenges against the project. The state-run utilities Energa and Enea have also failed to attract financial support for the project. While construction began in 2019, the plan by PKN Orlen, a state-run oil company, to take over Energa has led to the prospect the plant could be fuelled by gas rather than coal. The Minister for State Assets, Jacek Sasin, has also flagged that he expects mergers among the four state-owned power companies, PGE, Enea, Energa and Tauron. (Reuters, Reuters)

Peabody Energy racks up more losses: Peabody Energy, one of the largest US coal producers and a major exporter of both thermal and metallurgical coal, has announced that it lost US$185 million in 2019 compared to a profit of US$664 million in 2018. The company only emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 2017 after having halved its US$10 billion debt. Peabody Energy attributed its weakening financial position to declining demand in the US and falling prices in the export market for both metallurgical and thermal coal. A coal analyst at Moody’s, Benjamin Nelson, said he expects the company’s earnings in 2020 to decline further. “Peabody Energy is getting hammered by weak coal industry fundamentals and escalating environmental, social and governance concerns,” Nelson said. (Platts)

Eskom bid for urgent tariff increase rebuffed: The High Court in Pretoria has rejected Eskom’s application to urgently impose electricity tariff increases of 16.6 per cent in April and another 16.7 per cent in April 2021. The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) had approved tariff increases of 8.1 per cent from April and 5.2 per cent from April 2021. Eskom had argued higher interim tariffs were urgent to maintain viability. While Eskom’s bid for a higher interim tariff was rejected, the court agreed the utility’s broader challenge to the validity of NERSA’s tariff decision should be expedited. (Fin24, Business Day)

Australian Government pursues support for more coal plants: Despite the political backlash from massive bushfires spanning eastern states of Australia, the national government has announced it will fund a A$4 million (US$2.7 million) feasibility study for a 1000 MW coal plant in Collinsville, Queensland proposed by Shine Energy, a company with no power generation experience. The national government has also negotiated an agreement with the NSW Government to fast-track the assessment of a bid by Delta Energy for government underwriting for an upgrade of the 41-year-old 1320 MW Vales Point coal plant. Analysts argue these projects will struggle to attract private finance. The government’s support for new coal plants comes as a draft CSIRO study for the Australian Electricity Market Operator estimates that the cost of new wind generation, rooftop solar and utility solar is substantially cheaper than new black coal generation. (Guardian, RenewEconomy, CSIRO [pdf])

Sri Lankan government issues tender for new coal plant: Sri Lanka’s Cabinet has approved issuing a tender for a new 300 MW coal unit to be built at the existing but unreliable 900 MW Norochcholai plant. The government is pushing ahead with new coal and gas units after a two-hour blackout last week. In 2017, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka found the Ceylon Electricity Board’s proposals for more coal units at Norochcholai coal plant were not the cheapest option and instead backed renewables and gas units. (EconomyNext, Sunday Observer)


Adani Watch, Bob Brown Foundation, February 2020.

Adani Watch is a new website tracking the global activities of the Adani group of companies, including coal projects in Australia, Indonesia and India.

Increasing competition in India’s transmission sector, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, February 2020. (Pdf)

This 13-page report argues that India’s national transmission grid needs to be urgently upgraded to achieve the target of 450,000 MW of renewable generation by 2030.