December 15, 2021
Issue 398  |  View Past Issues
Published by Global Energy Monitor

Editor's Note

Stubborn resistance to cutting pollution from coal plants and early planning for a rapid transition to renewables is nothing new but has been on full display in the last week. In the US, Ameren doggedly fought for years against cutting sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from its Rush Island coal plant in Missouri which it claimed would operate until 2039. This week, after a court ruling, it announced it wants to close the plant rather than install pollution control equipment. In South Africa, Eskom has been pushing for permission for its brand new Medupi plant to exceed legal SO2 limits for the life of the plant. The regulator said no, noting that the new standards were unveiled in 2010. In India, the owners of over half of the country’s coal plant capacity have made no move to install pollution control standards first announced in 2015.

In Poland, a court has fined the government for allowing excessive pollution affecting the rights of a resident who lives in a city ringed with coal power plants. A new report also warns the longer the Polish Government delays embracing a rapid shift to renewables, the higher  power costs will increase. In Australia, where the government wants to simultaneously resist a transition to renewables and claim credit for the benefits of the change that has already occurred, the grid regulator has flagged the potential for the rapid acceleration of closure of old coal plants. The regulator has warned coal plant retirements could occur at three times the rate they anticipated in the last plan they completed just two years ago. Both Poland and Australia serve as a warning of the high costs of putting off a transition to renewables.

Bob Burton


How a small regional community beat a multinational coal giant

A decade-long campaign by residents in the New South Wales Southern Highlands has finally defeated a plan by South Korean company POSCO to build an underground coal mine, writes Tim Elliott in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Europe failure to include coal mine methane in its border adjustment regime is a missed opportunity

Future European Union climate legislation cannot afford to exclude consideration of coal mine methane in the region’s carbon border adjustment mechanism, writes Anatoli Smirnov from the energy think tank Ember in Euractiv.

Coal has left behind a massive environmental catastrophe

US coal states have paid a high health and environmental price for the nation’s economic growth, and the costs are still piling up, writes James Bruggers in Inside Climate News.

The Polish Government needs a way out of the Turow crisis

The Polish Government has the opportunity to solve its legal dispute with the Czech Republic over the impacts of the Turow mine by implementing a phased closure of the mine and allowing local communities to regain their basic rights to undamaged water and housing, writes Zala Primc from Europe Beyond Coal in Euractiv.


US utility to close Missouri coal plant after court defeat

Ameren has announced it will retire the 1242 megawatt (MW) Rush Island Energy Center in Missouri after a recent US Court of Appeals rejected a bid to overturn a 2019 court ruling directing the utility to install flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) equipment on the plant by March 2024 to slash sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions. The utility stated it had decided against appealing the decision and would seek to retire the plant after consulting the Midcontinent Independent System Operator but indicated closure could occur before 2024. The plant, which was commissioned between 1977 and 1979, had a nominal retirement date of 2039. In its court filing, Ameren stated early closure would “reduce SO2 emissions to a much greater extent and sooner than would FGD installation and continued operations, resulting in greater environmental benefit than additional decades of operating Rush Island with an FGD.” The decision was welcomed by the Sierra Club which urged Ameren to retire the remainder of its coal fleet before 2030. (Ameren, Sierra Club)

Top News

Eskom bid for higher pollution limits at two plants rejected: South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment has rejected a request from Eskom to exempt the 3990 MW Mathimba and the 4800 MW Medupi coal power stations from minimum emission standards. The department stated Eskom has “made minimal effort to fully comply with the standards” and its request could not be met as the agency “does not have the prerogative to issue decisions which are outside the current legal provisions or are in non-compliance with the law”. The Mathimba plant was commissioned in 1991 and units at the Medupi plant were progressively commissioned from 2015. While the legal limit for SO2 emissions is 500 milligrams per cubic nanometre (mg/Nm3) Eskom had been granted to emit 3500 mg/Nm3 until 2025 and had sought permission to emit up to 4000 mg/Nm3 until 2030 and at up to 1000 mg/Nm3 for the remaining life of the plant. (Business Insider, Eskom)

Polish court fined government for air pollution: The District Court in Gliwice has awarded Oliwer Palarz, a resident of the city of Rybnik, 30,000 zlotych (US$7307)) for infringing his personal rights to health and freedom caused by extreme air pollution in the town. The judge ruled the state treasury had committed “unlawful neglect” in allowing the air pollution to continue. Paralz, who is one of the founders of a local branch of Polish Smog Alert, welcomed the decision and hoped it would push the government to improve the country’s air quality. PGE’s 1720 MW Rybnik plant is on the edge of the city with other major coal plants in the region. However, the judge cautioned his ruling did not mean every citizen could sue the government because pollution standards had been exceeded. (Notes from Poland)

Six years after pollution rules, most Indian coal plants remain unchanged: Six years after the Indian Government first announced new coal power air pollution limits and four years since they came into effect, only 2300 MW of India’s 167,000 MW of coal plant capacity have installed FGD units to slash SO2 emissions. The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimates contracts have been awarded to fit FGD units to a further 67,000 MW of coal plant capacity. However, almost 98,000 MW of coal plant capacity have not yet committed to the installation of SO2 emission control equipment. (Times of India)

Study finds increased hospitalisations after Hazelwood mine fire: A survey of residents exposed to PM2.5 fine particle air pollution from the six-week Hazelwood coal mine fire in 2014 found increased hospital admissions in the five years after the disaster. A paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology found a 10 microgram per cubic meter increase in PM2.5 pollution was associated with a nine per cent increase in hospitalisation for respiratory conditions in the next five years, especially for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The study, which tracked 2725 residents from an exposed town and a comparator location, found more women were affected than men. (International Journal of Epidemiology)

Biden administration supports Trump-era move to undermine haze rules: Environmental groups have criticised the decision by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to oppose a legal challenge against a Trump-administration decision to require no further pollution controls on two coal plants to protect Utah’s national parks and wilderness areas from haze pollution. Under the Obama administration, the EPA required nitrogen oxide emissions from Utah’s coal plants to be cut by 76 per cent. The Trump administration weakened the plan to require no additional pollution controls on PacifiCorp’s 1577 MW Hunter or 1037 MW Huntington coal plants. The groups argue the plants are among the top sources of haze affecting Utah’s 11 national parks and 14 wilderness areas including Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion. Over 100,000 people submitted comments to state and federal agencies asking for stronger nitrogen oxide pollution controls. (Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah)

Former US utility official seeks records of Ohio Republican Governor: Lawyers for a former FirstEnergy Senior Vice President, Michael Dowling, have filed subpoenas seeking records between Generation Now and Partners for Progress, two ‘dark money’ non-profits at the centre of Ohio’s FirstEnergy bribery scandal, and a range of businesses, lobbyists and officeholders including Republican Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted. In August, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost named Dowling as a defendant to a state racketeering lawsuit over his alleged role in FirstEnergy’s support for the passage of the HB6 bill bailing out two coal and two nuclear plants. The ongoing controversy over the Ohio bailout scandal comes as it has been revealed Florida Power and Light, the largest US power utility, provided US$3 million to Grow United, a Denver-based group (later renamed Proclivity), which gave US$550,000 to two Political Action Committees to support the campaigns of three independent candidates. (Cleveland, Columbus Dispatch, Salon)

US Senator’s coal interests raise ethics concerns: Former government ethics advisers have challenged Democratic Senator Joe Manchin’s claim that his coal interests have “been in a blind trust for 20 years. I have no idea what they’re doing.” Manchin, who has a key vote in a Senate split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, has successfully blocked key elements of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better bill which would affect the coal power and mining sector. Manchin earned US$492,000 in interest, dividends and other income from Enersystems, a coal supply company he founded and ran until he entered politics. Manchin’s stake in Enersystems is estimated to be worth between US$1 million and US$5 million. However, the latest documents reveal Manchin’s blind trust earned no more than $15,000 last year and is worth between $500,000 and $1 million, indicating his Enersystems interests are held separately. Senate rules do not require members to divest their interests. “It is a very blatant conflict of interest,” said Craig Holman from Public Citizen. (Washington Post [paywall])

Coal company’s claims challenged by Canadian First Nations groups: The Kainai and Siksika First Nations have disputed a claim by Montem Resources to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada that it had ongoing engagement with 14 First Nations Groups over its proposed Tent Mountain metallurgical coal project. In a letter to the agency, the Kainai and Siksika wrote the “relationship has decayed and it is no longer accurate to represent the relationship as amounting to meaningful consultation.” They also stated Montem offered them C$275,000 (US$215,000) to fund impact studies but only on condition they withdraw their request for a federal review of the proposed mine. Montem is the first company to request federal approval for a mine in Alberta after Benga Mining’s proposed Grassy Mountain project was rejected in June due to impacts on Indigenous rights and the environment. (CBC)


Indonesia: PT Adaro Minerals Indonesia prospectus states it wants to raise up to 831.67 billion rupiah (US$57.83 million) to cover the maintenance costs of its mining equipment.

Serbia: Outages at the Nikola Tesla A and B coal plants led to a surge in power imports.

South Africa: The National Prosecuting Authority is seeking to claw back funds used by the Gupta family to purchase the Optimum Mine from Glencore.

US: A former Signal Peak Mine executive has pled guilty to not reporting workplace accidents.

“The financial viability of existing thermal generation will become increasingly uncertain, particularly coal-fired generation that is less able to adjust generation levels rapidly in response to changes in market prices. Significant financial decisions to repair and maintain plant may be harder to justify under this uncertainty, potentially resulting in declining plant reliability,”

states [p. 22] the Australian Energy Market Operator.

Companies + Markets

HSBC updates coal restrictions but loopholes abound: In response to pressure from civil society groups, HSBC, one of the world’s largest funders of coal power and mining expansions, has announced it will halve its support for thermal coal projects by 2030 and end it entirely in the European Union and OECD countries by 2040. It also states it will “seek to withdraw” financing and advisory support for clients that commit to new thermal coal expansion projects after 1 January 2021 but excluding projects companies had already contracted for or were under construction. Civil society groups welcomed HSBC’s announcement but criticised its many major loopholes including the exclusion of restrictions to a wide range of “thermal coal services, metallurgical coal projects, the exclusion of non-OECD coal companies from revenue thresholds.” HSBC has stated that coal companies financed by the bank that do not have plans to phase out coal production by 2050 have a further two years to develop plans. (Reuters, ShareAction, Reclaim Finance, HSBC)

US Government directs agencies to exclude coal projects: Diplomatic cables sighted by Bloomberg indicate the Biden administration has ordered US government agencies to end the financing of new overseas fossil fuel projects, with limited exceptions, and to prioritise clean energy technologies and net-zero transitions. The directive allows support for coal projects where the plant includes full carbon capture and storage or is part of an accelerated phase-out. Friends of the Earth climate finance campaigner, Kate DeAngelis, said the loopholes had the potential to make the policy “completely meaningless”. (Reuters, Friends of the Earth)

Australian regulator says coal plants will close faster than planned: A draft report by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) estimates Australia’s electricity grid could be coal-free by 2043 with potentially all Victorian brown coal plants and about two-thirds of black coal generation closed by 2032. In its central “step change” scenario AEMO states coal capacity will retire at two to three times faster than previously anticipated with renewables share of generation growing from about 28 per cent in 2020–21 to 79 per cent by 2030 and 97 per cent by 2050. It notes about 5000 MW of coal retirements have been announced by 2030 but current modelling suggests 14,000 MW may be closed by that time. AEMO’s draft Integrated System Plan 2022 notes solar and wind generation is being commissioned at a rate faster than it envisaged in its last plan which was finalised two years ago. (Guardian, Australian Energy Market Operator [Pdf])

Report finds Polish power bills would be cheaper with renewables switch: A report by the Instrat Foundation estimates Polish electricity prices will increase by 800 zlotych (US$194) per year by 2030 if the government sticks to its Polish Energy Policy 2040 which has renewables at only 32 per cent of generation. Instrat estimates increasing renewables share of generation to 70 per cent by 2030 would be 20 per cent cheaper than retaining a heavy reliance on coal power even after allowing for transmission upgrades. The report argues the European Union’s climate policy and the need to retire old and uneconomic coal plants will require the government to increase the role for renewables beyond its current policy. (Instrat [Pdf])

Modelling backs South African switch to renewables: South Africa’s electricity demand could overwhelmingly be met by renewables by 2040 if 40,000 MW of new wind capacity was built along with 230,000 MW of solar and 35 gigawatt (GW)/290 GW-hours of storage, according to modelling done by Clyde Mallinson. South Africa’s current Integrated Resource Plan from 2019 proposes the construction of new coal, gas and hydro capacity and possibly a new nuclear plant. In Mallinson’s modelling, the switch to renewables would deliver power at a factory site for US$0.03 per kilowatt hour (kWh) compared to Eskom’s current wholesale tariff of about US$0.07/kWh. Eskom’s wholesale prices are projected to rise to US$0.15/kWh by 2030. The 2019 plan for additional coal capacity is subject to a legal challenge while a consortium offering to support a renewables transition plan are reportedly wary of supporting the new gas capacity sought by Eskom. (Engineering News)

Eskom seeks power price rise as plant availability declines: Eskom has confirmed it is seeking a 20.5 per cent electricity price increase from April 1, 2022, for its direct customers and has rejected the estimate by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa that it is seeking a 54.35 per cent increase assuming claims sought from previous years and a court ruling are approved. The power price hike application comes as Eskom reported the average availability of its power plants over the last year, which are mostly coal units, fell to 64 per cent compared to a target of 72 per cent. Three coal plants – the 3510 MW Tutuka, 4116 MW Kendal and 3450 MW Duvha power stations – accounted for almost half of all breakdowns and outages. South African energy analyst, Mike Rossouw, said Eskom would be best off shutting down five coal plants – Arnot, Camden, Grootvlei, Hendrina, and Komati – and concentrating limited maintenance funding on larger plants. The five plants have an average age of 53 years and generate only about 4000 MW of their 8300 MW nominal capacity. (MyBroadband, Moneyweb, 702)


“What does the coalition treaty mean for renewables, coal and the power market in Germany?”, Clean Energy Wire, December 8, 2021.

This briefing note explores in detail the implications for coal, renewables and related topics of the coalition agreement of the incoming German Government.