May 24, 2018
Issue 230  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The parameters of the debate over a coal power phase-out keep shifting at an astonishing rate. New York State has unveiled proposed emission performance standards that would see its last two coal plants gone by 2020. The Netherlands has proposed legislation setting a 2030 end to coal power but with a twist for the three new plants commissioned in 2015 and 2016: no compensation would be paid. Two new public health studies, based on data after eight oil and coal plants in California closed, reveal that babies benefit from reduced air pollution and fertility rates of women increase.

There have been some other surprises this week too. The risk management company Aon estimates one-fifth of all insurance companies will pull their investments in coal companies by the end of 2018. In another twist, a major Dutch pension fund has dumped its coal investments and flagged what few others have mentioned to date: that the implementation of the Paris Agreement will hit producers of metallurgical coal as well as thermal coal miners.

In the latest signal that the Adani’s Australian subsidiary has no intention of walking away from its proposed Carmichael coal mine just yet, the company is seeking to sell a part of its export coal terminal to potentially help finance the project. A company executive was also at an Australian Government organised event in Vietnam trying to drum up customers for the project. Adani’s hope for rapid growth in Vietnam’s coal demand may not come to pass: this week the Ministry of Finance proposed another increase in its coal tax to encourage fuel switching and discourage pollution.

Bob Burton


This clean energy champion is out to break Vietnam's coal habit

There is a groundswell of popular opinion in Vietnam against new coal plants in part due to the efforts of Nguy Thi Khanh, the first Vietnamese to win a Goldman Environmental Prize, writes Jill Baker in Forbes.

Adani’s desperate bid to sell Carmichael coal to Vietnam

The invitation of an Adani Mining executive to speak on coal procurement at an “energy roundtable” in Hanoi organised by an Australian Government agency is symptomatic of the desperate challenge the company faces in getting its Carmichael coal project off the ground, writes Bob Burton in EndCoal.


New York regulation aimed at phasing out remaining coal plants by 2020

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has proposed new regulations setting carbon dioxide emission standards at a level designed to force the operators of existing coal plants to switch fuels or shut down by December 2020. Coal plant owners would only be able to meet the proposed 1800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt (MW) hour limit if expensive carbon capture and storage technology was fitted. New York State’s two remaining coal plants have a combined capacity of 978 MW. (Utility Dive)

Netherlands to end coal by 2030

Netherlands Minister for Economy, Eric Wiebes, has proposed legislation to ban the use of coal power stations by 2030. As part of the phase-out two plants commissioned in 1994 and owned by RWE and Vattenfall would be required to close by 2024. The proposed law requires the three remaining plants, which were commissioned in 2015 and 2016, to close by the end of 2029 without any compensation. RWE, which owns the $3.8 billion, 1560 MW Eemshaven plant, said it would contemplate legal action over the proposed lack of compensation. (Reuters)

Top News

Increased fertility after coal and oil plant closures: Two new studies have found increases in maternal health following the closure of eight power plants in California. The eight projects, which were assessed in both studies, comprised two coal-fired plants and six oil-fired plants. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found a 20–25 per cent drop in premature births. The biggest declines were recorded for African-American and Asian women. Babies born prematurely can have long-term health problems and learning difficulties. A separate study published in Environmental Health found fertility rates increased by 8 births per 1000 women within 10 kilometres of the eight plants after their closure. (Eurekalert, American Journal of Epidemiology, Environmental Health)

Risk adviser says one-fifth of insurers could exit coal investments in 2018: The global risk management company Aon believes that up to 20 per cent of all insurance companies could drop their coal assets by the end of the year. Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, a major international funder of new coal plants, has conceded coal power “has a big impact on climate change” and has flagged it is “considering making our financing policy stricter.” (Sydney Morning Herald, Bloomberg)

US Supreme Court to hear appeal against World Bank arm: The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by Indian villagers against the failure of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) to enforce environmental conditions it imposed on a $450 million loan to Tata Power for its 4000 MW Mundra power plant. Indian fishing communities and farmers, who argue that Tata’s Mundra plant has damaged their livelihoods, property and health, are challenging a lower court decision that the IFC has absolute immunity from prosecution under the 1945 International Organizations Immunity Act. (Reuters, EarthRights International)

South African NGOs warn of possible legal action over power plan: Earthlife Africa and the Center for Environmental Rights have warned the Department of Energy that they will have no hesitation in filing a legal challenge to a revised national power plan if it fails to protect constitutional rights to a healthy environment, water and human rights. The government is proposing to announce the final Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity (IRP) in August after a round of public consultation. A previous IRP, which was not released for public comment, is believed to have endorsed new coal and nuclear plants even though solar and wind are now the cheapest new power generation sources. (Engineering News)

Leaked strategy paper proposes economic focus for German commission: A leaked German Government strategy paper has proposed that climate action must be “harmonised” with economic and social considerations in the country’s lignite mining and power regions. The paper flags that an initial report on the country’s lignite mining regions will be completed by October for the yet-to-be appointed coal phase-out commission. The head of the Federal Network Agency, Germany’s electricity grid regulator, said that if proposed grid expansion and gas plants are completed, about half of the country’s over 50,000 MW of coal plant capacity “can disappear by 2030 without any risk to supply.” (Clean Energy Wire, Platts, Reuters)


Australia: Waratah Coal’s proposed 56 million tonnes a year mine to be subject to federal environmental assessment.

Australia: Exemption from pollution standards allows AGL’s Liddell plant to emit nitrogen oxides at up to 14 times the level of global best practice.

Egypt: Government reviews three bids for 6000 MW Hamrawein plant.

UK: Peabody Energy CEO, Glen Kellow, appointed Chair of World Coal Association, the global coal industry lobby group.

US: Proposed 600 MW plant in Lima, the last proposed coal plant in Ohio, has been scrapped.

Companies + Markets

Adani seeks to offload stake in port to fund Carmichael mine: Adani has appointed the investment bank Rothschild to sell a stake in its existing Abbot Point coal export terminal in what has been interpreted as a bid to raise funds for its stalled Carmichael coal mine. Adani is also reportedly hoping to attract the interest of a second bank. In 2016 Adani attempted to sell a stake in the coal port but banks doubted Adani’s projected export volumes and baulked at the reputational risk of being associated with the controversial company. The environmental group Market Forces argues that the port is not viable without the Carmichael mine but that even if a partial sale proceeds Adani will still need to attract other investors for the project to proceed. (Sydney Morning Herald, Market Forces)

Dutch industry pension fund to divest from coal: Pensioenfonds voor de Metalektro (PME), a Dutch metal industry pension fund with €47 billion (US$55 billion) under management, has sold all of its shares in coal producing companies. The shares were worth €6.3 million (US$7.4 million). Eric Uijen, the chairman of PME’s executive board, said he expected that as a result of moves to implement the Paris Agreement both thermal and metallurgical coal would decline. Pure fossil fuel companies “no longer have future-proof operations and therefore no longer fit into the investment portfolio of PME,” the fund stated. (IPE, Nu E [Google Translate], Pensions & Investors)

General Electric invests in Kenya plant: General Electric (GE) has committed to invest 50 billion Kenya shillings (US$496 million) in the controversial proposed 1050 MW Lamu coal plant project near the Lamu Old Town UNESCO World Heritage site. In return for supplying generation equipment for the plant GE will gain a 20 per cent stake in the project. At an international review of the implementation of the Paris Agreement in East Africa held in Nairobi, civil society groups criticised Kenya’s support for coal power. (Business Daily, The Star)

Indonesian power prices set to climb to cover coal: Indonesia’s state-owned utility Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) may be forced to increase power prices in 2020 by as much as 25 per cent to cover increasing losses driven by its growing commitment to coal plants, according to a research brief by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). IEFFA estimates increased prices and/or subsidies will be required to cover an estimated tripling of PLN’s losses over the next four years. President Joko Widodo has imposed restrictions on power prices ahead of local elections this year and a presidential election in October 2019. To ease financial stress on PLN the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources in February announced a price cap of US$70 per tonne of domestically consumed thermal coal to insulate electricity consumers from higher prices as the export market price climbed to near US$100 per tonne. (IEEFA)

Polish coal imports set to climb: A substantial increase in Polish coal imports — especially from Russia — is projected in 2018 as domestic coal production continues to decline and costs increase. Polish hard coal sales fell by 9.3 per cent in 2017 to 66.3 million tonnes while imports rose by 61 per cent to 13.4 million tonnes in 2017. Poland produced 123 million tonnes coal for domestic consumption in 2016, with an almost even split between hard coal and lignite. (Platts)

Vietnam’s Finance Ministry proposes coal tax increase: Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance has proposed increasing the environmental tax on coal by 50 per cent to 15,000 Vietnamese dong (US$0.66) per tonne from July 1. It has also proposed increasing the tax on higher grade anthracite from 20,000 dong (US$0.88) to 30,000 dong (US$1.3) per tonne. The ministry states the aim of the proposed tax increase is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and pollution, encourage energy efficiency and switch to cleaner fuels. The government-owned National Coal-Mineral Industries Group has complained that the tax would lead to higher electricity prices. Vietnam coal imports are set to increase rapidly with 10,635 MW of coal plants under construction and a further 35,890 MW proposed. (VN Express, Global Coal Plant Tracker)

Philippines utility looks to cut coal exposure and boost renewables: The power generation arm of Ayala Corporation (AC) has expressed interest in selling a 50 per cent stake in its coal plant portfolio to enable it to “grow our renewables exponentially” in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. AC Energy has interests in four coal plants with its share accounting for 1300 MW. It also has 300 MW of renewables capacity. AC Energy said it is aiming for 5000 MW of generation capacity by 2025 with about 2500 MW of renewables capacity, but remains interested in expanding its coal capacity as well. (Reuters, Manila Standard)


Chinese-financed coal projects in southeast Europe: A Trojan horse in the EU’s decarbonisation agenda?, CEE Bankwatch Network, May 14, 2018. (Pdf)

This 10-page briefing paper reveals that five countries seeking to join the European Union (EU) are looking to build new lignite-fired plants, most with loans from China Eximbank and other Chinese banks. The report argues all the plants breach EU legislation on environment, state aid and/or procurement.

PLN’s Coal IPP Funding Gap Suggests Tariffs Must Rise in 2020, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, May 2018. (Pdf)

This 6-page research brief finds the growing financial cost of new independent power plants will drive big increases in power prices and or government subsidies in the next few years.

The end of coal: Alberta’s coal phase-out, IISD, May 2018. (Pdf)

This 37-page report explores the background to how the policy of phasing out coal power in the Canadian province of Alberta was developed by a loose coalition of groups and how it has been implemented.