November 4, 2021
Issue 393  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

As the Glasgow climate conference progresses there has been a blizzard of announcements including about long-term net-zero emissions. There have been far fewer tangible commitments to increased ambition ahead of 2030 but a few stand out. The two most significant ones are the global coalition to cut methane emissions and the proposed US$8.5 billion plan to decarbonise South Africa’s economy and its power sector in particular. The Croatian Prime Minister announced that his country’s sole remaining coal plant would close by 2033 at the latest. China’s recent commitment to ending support for international coal plants may bring the end of new coal projects in Cambodia.

But a new report spells out the magnitude of the challenge ahead: nearly one coal unit must close each day between now and 2030 to stay on track for the 1.5°C target. Despite the major financial challenges facing coal plants, the South Korean Government has adopted a 2050 phase-out date. In Pakistan, a country with huge wind and solar potential, the government has cut support for new renewables projects and is backing domestic coal plants instead. Perhaps these decisions might change after the commitment from Bloomberg Philanthropies to ramp up its support for a campaign to retire existing coal plants and prevent new ones from being built. The latest Lazard cost estimates for electricity reveal that new coal can’t compete against renewables and it would also be cheaper to close many existing coal plants and switch to clean energy.

CoalWire will take a one-week break and return on November 18.

Bob Burton


Cambodia can secure reliable electricity without new coal

China’s new stance against supporting coal abroad can move Cambodia towards a clean energy future, writes Bridget McIntosh of EnergyLab Cambodia in China Dialogue.

India’s 2070 climate target is a far bigger deal than it sounds

If India accelerates the deployment of new non-fossil-fuel electricity to reach its target of 500,000 MW by 2030, it will accelerate the decline of coal far more than most analysts estimated, writes David Fickling in Bloomberg.

Why fossil fuel subsidies are so hard to kill

Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies can be politically and economically challenging but pressure for action is growing, writes Jocelyn Timperley in Nature.

Pakistan's retreat from wind and solar will come at a cost

The continuing development of expensive coal plants fuelled by domestic coal is worsening the major issues of growing capacity payments, the high cost of power generation, and power system debt, writes Simon Nicholas from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.


Croatia announces 2033 coal phase-out

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced at the COP26 conference in Glasgow that the country’s only coal plant, the 200 megawatt (MW) Plomin power station, will close by 2033 at the latest. The announcement has been welcomed by Europe Beyond Coal which said it expected the plant, which accounts for 40 per cent of Croatia’s greenhouse gas emissions, to close by 2030 at the latest. In 2017 the government announced that it planned to extend the life of the 125 MW Unit 1 by 15 to 20 years without environmental assessment. However, a fire at the 1969 vintage plant resulted in the unit being closed leaving just the 200 MW Unit 2 operating. (Europe Beyond Coal, Global Energy Monitor)

Top News

Coalition of countries launches plan to cut methane emissions: The Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions at least 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030 has won support from 105 countries. These countries account for over 40 per cent of global methane emissions. The International Energy Agency estimates that about 40.5 million tonnes of methane leaked from global operational coal mines in 2020. Methane is estimated to have 28–36 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over 100 years and 84–87 times the impact over a 20-year period. Signatories to the pledge include the European Union, the US and Indonesia. However, the major coal producing countries of China, Russia, India and Australia have so far refused to support the pledge. (US State Department, Ember)

South African Just Transition partnership launched: France, Germany, UK, US and the European Union have made an initial commitment of US$8.5 billion (131 billion rand) over the next three to five years to support decarbonising South Africa’s economy with an emphasis on shifting its coal-dependent electricity sector to renewables. The agreement emphasises the need to involve organised labour and business and to ensure affected coal workers and communities “are the major beneficiaries” of the transition. A coalition of South African civil society groups has cautiously welcomed the proposal but called for far greater clarity on the nature of the finance, the level of support for affected communities and the composition of the task force to oversee the plan. (News24, UK Government, Life After Coal)

Report says 3000 coal plants must go by 2030: A report by Transition Zero, a climate think tank, estimates that meeting the target of limiting global heating to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures will require the closure of about 2925 coal units or nearly one per day until 2030. Reaching the cuts set out in the International Energy Agency’s net-zero emissions target would require the closure of over 875,000 MW of capacity. Between 2010 and 2020 it is estimated 319,549 MW of coal capacity was closed with an average age of 38 years for each unit. Achieving an accelerated rate of coal closures will require the retirement of far younger units with many plants in China. (Reuters, Transition Zero)

Bloomberg Philanthropies to expand anti-coal support: Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation that was established by former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, has announced it will increase funding support to groups in seven countries and the European Union which are working to retire existing coal plants and switch to clean energy. It will also provide funding and other support to groups in 25 countries where coal generation is projected to grow and where it is not currently providing support. The foundation said its aim is to close a quarter of the world’s 2445 remaining coal plants by 2025 and ensure all 519 proposed coal plants do not proceed. (Bloomberg Philanthropies)

G20 resolution on coal phase-out blocked by a handful of countries: The G20 leaders’ summit has for the first time agreed to the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5°C and agreed to end international public finance for new unabated coal generation by the end of 2021. The G20 represents 19 countries and the European Union and accounts for 80 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, the push by the Italian Government, which hosted the talks, to get the G20 to agree to a transition away from domestic coal power was blocked by the major fossil fuel producing and consuming countries of Australia, Russia, India and China. The failure to agree on cuts to domestic coal generation has cast a shadow over the COP26 conference in Glasgow with both the United Nations and the UK expressing concern about the ability to make further progress on restrictions on coal. (Financial Times, Politico, G20 [Pdf])

Court says mine expansion decision was illegal: A Montana District Judge, Katherine Bidegaray, has ruled in favour of an appeal by the Montana Environment Information Center and the Sierra Club against the 2015 decision of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to permit a 25,752 acre (10,421 hectare) expansion of the Rosebud Mine owned by Westmoreland Mining. The judge said the DEQ ignored the provisions of the Montana Strip and Underground Mine Reclamation Act which bans mining permits being issued unless the company can prove water resources outside the permit area will be protected. Judge Bidegaray concluded the DEQ’s decision that the cumulative impacts of mine expansion would not result in damage was “arbitrary and capricious” and was therefore illegal. The DEQ has been ordered to reconsider the decision. (Environment News Service,  Earthjustice)

US Supreme Court to consider EPA power to regulate Co2 emissions: The US Supreme Court, which is dominated by Republican appointees, has agreed to hear a case brought by Westmoreland Mining, North American Coal Company and some states including West Virginia challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. At issue is the decision by the Court of Appeals District of Columbia’s court to strike out a 2019 rule introduced by President Trump on the grounds it relied on a flawed interpretation of the Clean Air Act. The EPA argues that as President Obama’s Clean Power Plan has lapsed, the coal companies and states are seeking “an impermissible advisory opinion”. The Lignite Energy Council, a lobby group representing mining companies and power utilities that own six brown coal power stations and five mines, has also been granted approval to file a brief in the case. (Courthouse News Service, Greenwire, US Supreme Court, EDF)

South Korea baulks at 2030 coal end date: South Korean NGO groups have expressed dismay at the announcement by President Moon of a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 compared to 2018 levels. South Korea’s commitment to United Nations states it will cut the share of coal generation to 21.8 per cent and increase renewable generation from 6.2 per cent in 2018 to 30.2 per cent. Solutions for Our Climate said the government’s announcement failed to match the International Energy Agency’s call for OECD countries to phase out coal power by the end of the decade. It estimates that after allowing for overseas offsets the commitment is really only a 30 per cent cut in domestic emissions, a minor improvement on its earlier commitment. Earlier this year Carbon Tracker estimated it would be most cost-effective for South Korea to phase out coal plants by 2028. (Argus, Korea Herald, Carbon Tracker, For Our Climate)


Australia: As thermal coal prices spike, BHP may delay the sale of its Mt Arthur mine in New South Wales.

Indonesia: In a win for civil society groups the Constitutional Court has ruled that guaranteeing mining contract extensions is unconstitutional.

Kenya: Report to President Uhuru Kenyatta says the power purchase agreement for the 1050 MW Lamu coal plant has lapsed.

UK: Two members of the Science Museum’s board of trustees have resigned over the decision to accept sponsorship from Adani.

US: Ohio lawmakers baulk at removing subsidies for two coal plants included in scandal-tainted HB6 legislation.

US: Senator Joe Manchin, a key opponent of President Biden’s climate programs, was a keynote speaker at a recent US coal industry summit.

US: A subsidiary of American Electric Power confirms the 638 MW Dolet Hills lignite plant in Louisiana will close by December 31.

Companies + Markets

Canadian ban on thermal coal exports to hit US producers: The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) estimates the pre-election pledge by the Canadian Liberal Party to “end thermal coal exports from and through Canada no later than 2030” will have a significant effect on US coal exporters. IEEFA estimates the export ban could result in about 13 million tonnes of thermal coal, mostly from mines in Montana, being removed from the Pacific market. Canada has two coal export terminals in British Columbia: Ridley Terminals near the border with Alaska and Westshore Terminals near Vancouver. Canada’s only thermal coal export oriented mine, the Vista project in Alberta, has experienced significant financial difficulties and earlier this year filed for bankruptcy protection. (Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis)

New cost estimates reveal renewables beat fossil fuels in many locations: The financial services firm Lazard estimates that unsubsidised utility-scale solar costs between US$28 and US$41 per megawatt hour (MWh) and onshore wind between US$25 and US$50 per MWh. Lazard estimates the cheapest cost of new coal generation at US$65 MWh. After allowing for current US subsidies the firm estimates the cost of electricity from onshore wind at between US$9 and US$40 per MWh and utility-scale thin-film solar at between US$23 and US$32 per MWh. Lazard estimates the midpoint in the range of operating costs of fully depreciated coal, nuclear and gas plants in the US at U$42/MWh, US$29/MWh and US$24/MWh respectively. They estimate a coal plant capturing 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions would generate electricity at US$152 per MWh before the cost of transport and storage. (Lazard)

Asian NGOs call for clarify on ADB coal buyout plan: A coalition of 60 Asian NGOs has called on the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to suspend the announcement of its proposed energy transition mechanism trial to buy then retire existing coal power plants in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The NGOs expressed alarm that the ADB plans to pitch for funding for the project at the Glasgow climate conference. While supporting the goal of retiring coal plants, the NGOs expressed concern there was no guarantee new renewables capacity would replace coal generation. They also said there was a lack of detail on how the mechanism would shorten the operating life of coal plants rather than prolong them. (NGO Forum on the ADB)

Vale writes down Mozambique coal business by almost US$2 billion: The Brazilian mining company Vale has written down the value of its coal business to zero with a “full impairment” of almost US$1958 million. The company noted China’s accelerating steel cuts “should dampen coking coal demand”. However, the company expects thermal coal prices to rise due to the combination of increasing demand in the northern hemisphere winter and the lack of additional mine production. Vale is currently seeking to sell its Moatize mine and associated infrastructure in Mozambique. (Reuters, Vale [Pdf])

Japan’s push for ammonia and hydrogen seen as lifeline for coal plants: Japan’s peak climate NGO, the Kiko Network, has expressed alarm at the government’s push to heavily subsidise the use hydrogen and ammonia to extend the life of its fleet of coal plants. Kiko argues most of the projects in Southeast Asia, North America, Russia and Australia earmarked to supply hydrogen and ammonia to Japanese power plants are based on natural gas or lignite. While the use of carbon capture and storage has been proposed to reduce emissions associated with the projects, it remains an expensive technology. JERA, Japan’s largest power utility, has announced it is aiming to use 20 per cent ammonia in its fuel mix for about two months at a 1000 MW unit at its Hekinan power station. (Reuters, Kiko Network)

Australia cuts coal power forecast: A report by an Australian Government agency estimates Australia will close 11,000 MW of coal plants by 2030, over 6000 MW more than accounted for by the 1680 MW Liddell plant in NSW and the 1480 MW brown coal Yallourn plant in Victoria. The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources estimates renewables could account for 61 per cent of Australia's electricity by 2030. The department estimates Victoria’s brown coal production will halve by 2030 to 22 million tonnes. The report estimates black coal production will decrease by only one million tonnes from 580 million tonnes in 2019 to 579 in 2030 on the assumption increased metallurgical coal production will offset the decline in thermal coal. The report estimates methane emissions from Australia’s coal mines will decline by only 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) to 28 million tonnes CO2e. (Argus, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources [Pdf])

US and European Union unveil steel and aluminium agreement: The United States and the European Union have announced that by 2024 they plan to negotiate an agreement to penalise high-carbon steel and aluminium, especially from China. Under the agreement the tariffs on European Union steel and aluminium producers would be cut and anti-dumping measures enforced to block high-carbon Chinese production from undermining US producers. The European Union is proposing to cut tariffs on “a wide range of products”. The US and EU state the carbon-based deal for the two sectors will boost investment in “green steel” production in the United States, Europe and other exporters. The US and EU said other countries would be eligible to join the carbon-based agreement if they meet the criteria of “restoring market orientation and reducing trade in high-carbon steel and aluminium products”. (US Government)

US bill expands incentives for CCS which the Sierra Club wants scrapped: President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better legislation currently includes a US$85 credit for each tonne of carbon dioxide from carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, a boost from the current US$50 per tonne incentive. It also extends the commencement deadline for a project from 2025 to 2031 and increases the tax credit for carbon dioxide used in enhanced oil recovery from US$35 per tonne to US$60 per tonne. Projects that commence by 2031 operation qualify for the tax credit for 12 years. The Sierra Club, which is campaigning for the closure of all US coal plants by 2030, wants the increase dropped due to the risk it would slow the retirement of currently uneconomic coal plants. They estimate a 1000 MW coal plant could receive up to US$1 billion over 12 years from the proposed scheme. The increased incentives have been backed by the coal mining company, Peabody Energy, the power utility Duke Energy and the pro-CCS NGO, the Clean Air Task Force. (Reuters, Bloomberg, Sierra Club)


Designing Coal Retirement Mechanisms for Equity and Impact, Sierra Club, November 2021. (Pdf)

This 13-page briefing paper argues that financing early retirement of coal plants can avoid potential pitfalls by being designed to embody the core values of equity and impact.