December 3, 2020
Issue 350  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

It was a pleasant surprise to read of the Goldman Environmental Prizes being awarded to two coal activists, Chibeze Ezekiel, from 350 Ghana, and Lucie Pinson from Friends of the Earth France and the Sunrise Project for their efforts in curtailing coal power.

There have been other significant developments too. In Germany, the first of the country’s auctions of compensation for coal closures has resulted in over 4700 megawatts (MW) of capacity to close by January 2021. However, the European Commission has flagged a likely inquiry into the direct compensation on offer later for large lignite plant closures. In Vietnam, one of the few remaining countries with a raft of new coal plant proposals, the Nghe An provincial government has called on the central government to exclude the proposed 1200 MW Quynh Lap Power Center and the associated 1200 MW Quynh Lap 2 from the next national power development plan. In Indonesia, a government agency has flagged a study into replacing 5655 MW of coal plants that are over 20 years old with renewables with battery storage capacity.

The tally of coal and associated companies facing a tough time in the courts continues to grow. In South Africa, the state-owned utility Eskom is set to face criminal charges over providing the government regulator with misleading data on pollution at a big coal plant. In the US, a bankruptcy court judge is asking tough questions of a law firm that worked for FirstEnergy Solutions on the Ohio coal and nuclear bailout bill before he will allow their outstanding bills to be paid.

Bob Burton


South Africa saved from the disaster that the Thabametsi coal plant would have been

The proposed Thabametsi coal plant would have been a climate and environmental disaster that would have cost South Africa 12.57 billion rand (US$824 million) more than a least-cost electricity system, write Melissa Fourie from the Centre for Environmental Rights, Bobby Peek from GroundWork (Friends of the Earth SA) and Makoma Lekalakala from Earthlife Africa in Business Day.

One South African coal project down, more to go

While residents are celebrating the collapse of the proposed Thabametsi project, they now face a plan to build a 280 kilometre pipeline to supply water for the Medupi coal plant and proposed coal projects in the Waterberg district, writes Sheree Bega in the Mail & Guardian.

The battle to save a biodiversity hotspot in India from a coal port plan

For weeks, residents of Goa, alarmed at the likely damage to public health and the state's biodiversity, have been protesting against plans to transform Mormugao Port into a major coal port, writes Dielle D'Souza for the BBC.


Eleven German coal plants win closure compensation including five year old projects

Germany’s energy regulator Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA) has announced compensation of 317 million euro (US$164 million) for 11 hard coal units with a combined capacity of 4788 MW. The closures are to take effect on January 1, 2021. While most of the winning bids are for older and smaller units, two of the winning bids were for plants which were commissioned just five years ago: Vattenfall's 1600 MW Hamburg-Moorburg plant and RWE’s 764 MW Westfalen plant. The next of the seven auctions for progressive hard coal plant closures will be for another 1500 MW on January 4 with a further one in April 2021. (Reuters, S & P Global, BNetzA [German])

Top News

Goldman Prize winners include coal campaigners: Two of the six 2020 winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize are coal activists from Ghana and France. Chibeze Ezekiel, from 350 Ghana, organised a successful grassroots campaign against the proposed 700 MW Aboano power station. Lucie Pinson, who originally worked with Friends of the Earth France and more recently the Sunrise Project, successfully campaigned to end the financing of new coal projects and mines by the three largest French banks. She has subsequently campaigned to get insurance giants AXA and SCOR to phase out insurance coverage for coal projects. (Sierra, Mongabay, Goldman Prize)

Eskom served with criminal complaint over pollution from Kendal coal plant: South Africa’s Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, has revealed Eskom will face a criminal prosecution over pollution from its 4116 MW Kendal plant. The prosecution follows an internal Eskom investigation that found the plant emitted particulate matter at up to 10 times the legal limit of 100 mg/Nm3 for extended periods over the last two years. Eskom also faces a criminal charge of supplying false and misleading information in reports on its environmental performance. The case is due to be heard in court on January 28. The Center for Environmental Rights estimates that in 2018/19 pollution from the plant was responsible for between 128 and 274 premature deaths. (Daily Maverick, Business Day)

US judge poses tough questions to law firm over Ohio bailout bill: A federal US bankruptcy court judge is seeking answers to a series of detailed questions about what role four members of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s “Ohio Statehouse team” played in assisting FirstEnergy Solutions win support for House Bill 6 (HB 6). The bill provided US$1.3 billion in bailout support for two nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy subsidiaries and two coal plants. The law firm has sought payment of US$1.2 million in outstanding fees as part of US$63 million in costs charged to FirstEnergy Solutions before it declared bankruptcy. However, the judge suspended further payments after the Department of Justice arrested former Ohio House of Representative Speaker Larry Householder and four others over their role in a US$60 million bribery scandal associated with the passage of HB 6. The judge has requested disclosure of any ties or knowledge by the four lobbyists of Generation Now, the group that received about US$60 million to campaign for the legislation and fund election campaigns by Householder and other candidates. (, Akron Beacon Journal)

US judge rejects coal ash contractors’ bid to access newspaper records: A US district court judge has rejected a bid by Jacobs Engineering to subpoena Knox News investigative records from a Duke University professor, Dr. Avner Vengosh. Knox News had contracted Vengosh to test coal ash samples from 2008 which he discovered had high levels of radioactivity and were dangerous to breathe. Knox News argued in court that Jacobs Engineering, which undertook the cleanup of coal ash spilled from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston plant, was abusing the subpoena process and attempting intimidate critics of the firm’s treatment of labourers who worked on the site. (Knoxville News Sentinel)

Study backed by Chinese agency proposes restrictions on overseas coal projects: A report backed by China’s Ministry of Environment and Ecology has proposed an exclusion list for coal and other fossil fuel energy investments proposed to be included in the Belt and Road program. The study has proposed coal projects not excluded outright would be in the red category requiring strict regulation for climate, pollution and biodiversity impacts while renewable energy projects would be in the favoured green category. The China Development Bank and the Export Import Bank of China, the two largest Chinese public banks, are yet to restrict finance for international coal projects. Dimitri de Boer from ClientEarth said it was uncertain at this stage whether government agencies other than the Ministry of Environment and Ecology would support the approach proposed in the report. (Financial Times)

Report finds Poland ranks as worst in methane emissions from European coal mines: A report by the energy policy think tank Ember has found 70 per cent of methane leaks from Europe’s operating coal sector are from Polish mines. The report found that two Polish companies, metallurgical coal producer JSW, and PGG, which mostly produces thermal coal, are respectively responsible for 50 per cent and 40 per cent of the methane leaks from operating hard coal mines. Data submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change indicates that 89 per cent of Polish methane emissions in 2018 were from surface mines and abandoned coal mines. Ember notes Romania is the second largest European methane emitter from coal mines though this is overwhelming from abandoned projects. The Czech Republic and Germany were the third and fourth largest emitters from the coal sector, though in both countries this was overwhelmingly from operating mines. (Ember)


Australia: South Australian Government approves licences for Leigh Creek underground coal gasification project.

Australia: Adani fined A$26,000 (US$19,180) for breaching environmental licence conditions at its Carmichael coal mine.

Colombia: Production fell by almost half in third quarter because of COVID restrictions, cutbacks and the now resolved Cerrejon strike.

India: Cycone Nivar has caused the flooding of NLC’s Neyveli lignite mines.

Japan: Joban Joint Power has announced the closure of the 250 MW Nakoso Power Station Unit 10.

Poland: ClientEarth calls on Poland to abandon merger of state-owned energy utilities and shifting loss-making coal operations to state company.

South Africa: Landmark court case over air pollution in the Highveld Priority Area scheduled for May 2021.

UK: Launch of SteelZero group which requires members to buy, specify or stock 100 per cent net zero steel by 2050.

US: Residents fear Georgia Power’s land purchases are a tactic to avoid coal ash clean up regulations.

US: Coal miners’ union presses Biden transition team for more ambitious just transitions support.

Companies + Markets

Vietnamese province calls for coal cancellation: Nghe An province in central Vietnam has called on the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) to remove both the proposed 1200 MW Quynh Lap Power Center and South Korean company POSCO’s proposed 1200 MW Quynh Lap 2 plant from the national power development plan. Both projects have been subject to delays with the publicly owned coal company Vinacomin struggling to attract finance for the first plant. POSCO was also struggling to attract investor and financial support for the Quynh Lap 2 plant. The plants were listed in the 2019 revision of the current power development plan for commissioning in 2027 and 2028 respectively. The new plan is expected to be submitted to the national government by MOIT in December. (Thanh Nien Online [Vietnamese], Dau tu Online [Vietnamese])

Indonesia flags replacing old coal plants with solar and battery park: In the wake of international criticism of Korea’s power corporation, KEPCO achieving financial close for the 2000 MW Jawa 8 and 9 coal units, Indonesia’s Energy and Mineral Resources has revealed it is reviewing the prospect of replacing the adjacent 4025 MW Suralaya coal plant with solar capacity paired with batteries. The first of the eight units at the Suralaya plant, which is owned by the national utility PLN, were commissioned in 1984 and are nearing the end of their operational life. The ministry has identified 5655 MW of 20-year-old coal plants, including Suralaya, as priorities for replacement with new renewables generation. (Jakarta Post)

European Commission backs German hard coal auctions, to investigate lignite plan: The European Commission has ruled Germany’s competitive tender mechanism to compensate the owners of hard coal plants is in line with both the European Union’s climate objectives and rules restricting state aid for energy companies. Germany plans to offer seven tenders between 2020 and 2023 for the closure by 2026 of hard coal-fired and small lignite-fired power plants. However, the commission stated the proposed model of direct compensation for lignite plant operators will be subject to a separate formal investigation as to whether it is in breach of state aid rules. ClientEarth welcomed the prospect of an investigation into proposed lignite compensation, arguing it risks keeping plants operating as long or even longer than if there was no exit plan. (Clean Energy Wire, European Commission, ClientEarth)

Annual scorecard finds coal becoming uninsurable: The fourth annual scorecard by Insure Our Future on the insurance industry’s response to the climate crisis finds at least 23 insurance and reinsurance companies have now ended or limited their cover for coal projects, an increase of six companies in the last year. These companies control 12.9 per cent of the primary insurance market and 48.3 per cent of the reinsurance market. However, the report finds major companies in the US, the Lloyd’s market and East Asia are still insuring coal. According to one broker, the retreat of the insurance industry from supporting coal projects is having an impact with project proponents facing rate increases of up to 40 per cent this year. (Insure Our Future [Pdf])

United Arab Emirates commissions new coal plant, now undercut by solar: ACWA Power of Saudi Arabia is set to commission the first 600 MW unit of the proposed Hassyan coal plant in the United Arab Emirates. The plant was originally proposed as a 3600 MW plant but in 2019 it was reported the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) were planning on completing just the first two 600 MW units before committing to the next stage. In 2016 DEWA agreed to buy power from the plant for less than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). In October 2019 DEWA entered into an agreement to buy electricity from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park for just 1.69 US cents per kWh. (Bloomberg, Global Energy Monitor)

Adani moves to self-finance railway as protests grow against State Bank of India role: The Adani Group, having failed to attract major financial support for its controversial Carmichael coal project, is moving to self-finance the US$350 million cost of the railway for the project. Reports that the State Bank of India (SBI) is considering a US$1 billion loan for the Carmichael project has angered institutional investors. French financial services company Amundi said it has urged SBI to rule the project out otherwise it would divest its SBI green bonds. The NGO group Market Forces has warned the switch to self-funding via the Adani parent company would result in investors and funders of Adani Ports – Allianz, PIMCO, Barclays, DeutscheBank and CreditSuisse – indirectly supporting the development of the Carmichael project. (Hindu Business Line, Market Forces, The Wire)

Peabody Energy faces hurdles to avoid second bankruptcy: Moody’s Investors Service estimates that while Peabody Energy, the largest US coal company, had US$815 million in cash reserves at the end of September it is highly likely the company will breach financial covenants on its debt. A Moody’s analyst said the array of challenges the company faces make is likely “in the near term” it will have to restructure its debt though it is unclear whether it will be through an out of court agreement or another bankruptcy. A breach in its financial covenants could accelerate demands for the early repayment of the company’s US$1.6 billion in long-term debt. The company’s top 10 shareholders include Elliot Management, BlackRock and Goldman Sachs. To cut costs, Peabody Energy plans to eliminate covering medical expenses for workers on Medicare and life insurance for retirees. (SP Global, Casper Star-Tribune)

Dozens of Australian coal ships blocked at Chinese ports: China’s Foreign Ministry has stated the reason an estimated 60 Australian ships with about 7 million tonnes of coal have been blocked from unloading for several months is because their cargoes fail to meet coal quality standards. Since October China has had an unofficial ban on Australian coal shipments. The spokesperson said the coal has been blocked “so as to better protect the legitimate interests and the environmental interests of the Chinese side.” Since the ban came into effect the benchmark price of premium Australian low-volatility coking coal has fallen from US$138.50 a tonne to US$101.25. With a ban on Australian cargoes, the largest beneficiaries are likely to be domestic producers along with Indonesian and Russian thermal coal exporters and Canadian and Mongolian metallurgical coal producers. Indonesia is hoping to increase sales to China after a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Indonesian Coal Mining Association and the China Coal Transportation and Distribution Association. (ABC News, Financial Times, Australian Financial Review [Paywall])


“In-depth Q&A: Does the world need hydrogen to solve climate change?”, Carbon Brief, November 30, 2020.

This explainer provides a good overview of the potential and limitations of hydrogen in decarbonising the global energy system. For coal this is particularly relevant for steel production.

Asian Electricity Data Transparency: Not yet fit for a rapid electricity transition, Ember, November 2020. (Pdf) (Country-by-country profiles are available here [Pdf].)

This 57-page report provides a country-by-country comparison of examine the sources currently available for timely electricity data in Asia.