April 4, 2019
Issue 270  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

As the latest update for the Global Coal Plant Tracker indicates, the number of proposed new coal plants continues to dwindle. While the prospects for minimising climate change substantially hinge on what happens in China, a lobby group for Chinese power utilities is seeking approval for hundreds of new coal plants between now and 2030. As it is, many major Chinese cities are falling well short of meeting their air pollution reduction targets, which in themselves are set at levels far higher that the World Health Organization recommends.

In South Korea, a government plan to upgrade old coal units has been suspended after public backlash over the air pollution impacts of extending the units’ life for another 10 or 20 years. In Australia, the insurance company QBE has buckled to growing pressure and announced restrictions on coal investments and insurance. In Japan, another of the key countries with big coal expansion plans, the Ministry of Environment has announced that as a matter of principle it intends to oppose all new coal plants. In the Philippines, a controversial 2016 decision to consider a slew of power purchase agreements for new coal plants faces a legal challenge.

The Australian Government’s official forecaster is predicting falling demand in key markets for seaborne coal, including China, India and Japan. In India, the government-owned Coal India is boasting of producing over 600 million tonnes of coal for the first time ever. While Mongolia has long been touted as a potential major new coal exporter, the tale of woe recounted in South Gobi Resources’ latest annual report is a salutary lesson that sometimes everything that can go wrong with ambitious coal projects does go wrong.

Bob Burton


China’s power industry calls for hundreds of new coal power plants by 2030

The China Electricity Council, a lobby group for China’s power industry, is pressing the government to allow for the development of between 300 and 500 new coal power plants by 2030, writes Lauri Myllyvirta in Greenpece’s Unearthed.

Toxic pollution from Canadian mines knows no borders

Massive open-pit coal mines in British Columbia are polluting the Elk River watershed with high levels of selenium, which is now threatening the quality of downstream US waters, writes Chloe Williams in Yale Environment 360.

Greening HSBC’s dirty money in Asia

HSBC’s justification of coal as a humanitarian act in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia is cynical and offensive in the extreme, writes Nguyen Thi Hang from the Vietnamese NGO GreenID in Asia Times.


QBE becomes eleventh insurance company to retreat from thermal coal

Following a campaign by Market Forces, the Australian insurance company QBE has become the eleventh insurance company to dramatically reduce its support for thermal coal. The A$16.5 billion (US$11.7 billion) company was facing a shareholder resolution urging it to set targets for reducing its support for coal, gas and oil sectors at its annual general meeting on May 9, 2019. QBE’s new energy policy states that “due to the high emissions intensity of thermal coal” by July 1, 2019 it will aim to have no direct investments in companies that generate more than 30 per cent of their revenue from thermal coal. It also stated that after July 1 it will exclude providing insurance underwriting for new thermal coal mines, coal power stations and coal transport infrastructure. QBE also announced that by 2030 it will have phased out all direct insurance for thermal coal customers, with some minor exceptions. (Australian Financial Review[paywall], Reuters, QBE)

Top News

South Korean Government suspends plant upgrades: The South Korean Government has suspended its plan to upgrade old polluting coal units, potentially extending their life by between 10 and 20 years, after public controversy over the pollution impact of the program. Ten units were originally planned to be retrofitted under the plan, with one almost completed. The remaining nine affected by the suspension of the upgrading program have a combined capacity of 4500 MW. While the government has not officially announced the suspension of its “performance improvement” program of coal unit upgrades, a message posted to the intranet of South Chungcheong Province’s power company confirmed the plan had been suspended until the end of 2019. The decision has been welcomed by civil society groups that have campaigned for the plants to be closed and for the government to focus on clean energy development. South Chungcheong in particular, which is home to around half of the nation's coal power plants, has been pressing the national government to phase out coal power. (JTBC [Google Translate], Solutions For Our Climate)

Coal plant construction slows for third year in a row: The latest annual update of the Global Coal Plant Tracker reveals that in 2018 there was a 20 per cent fall in newly completed coal plants compared to 2017. It also noted that in 2018 there was a 39 per cent drop in the commencement of construction of new plants and 24 per cent decline in pre-construction activity for new project proposals. An estimated 338,571 megawatts (MW) of new coal plants have been proposed but not yet been approved for construction. Over the last three years, pre-construction activity has fallen by 69 per cent. An estimated 17,614 MW of old coal plants were closed in 2018. In 2018 new construction began on 28,000 MW of new coal plants, with over half in China and the rest in another 10 countries. (Global Energy Monitor, Global Coal Plant Tracker)

Japan's Environment Ministry vows to oppose new coal plants: Japan’s Minister of the Environment, Yoshiaki Harada, has announced that the Ministry of the Environment will oppose all proposed new coal power plants. The announcement comes as major Japanese utilities and trading houses have cut their coal portfolios and financial institutions have announced restrictions on coal lending and insurance. While the Ministry of the Environment supervises the environmental assessment of all new coal plants over 150 MW capacity, the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has the final say on new projects. The Global Coal Plant Tracker notes that there are six proposed coal plants in Japan with a combined capacity of 6584 MW. (Asahi Shimbun, Guardian)

Most cities in two major Chinese air pollution control regions breach targets: A review of air quality data for the six months to the end of March has revealed that 30 of 39 cities in the Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei and Fenwei Plain pollution control regions breached air pollution targets. As part of the “war on pollution” announced in 2014 the two regions are supposed to reduce PM2.5 fine particle air pollution by about 3 per cent a year, with larger reductions specified for some cities. However, a Reuters analysis of air monitoring data across 39 cities found that in the six months to the end of March, PM2.5 pollution increased by six per cent to 82 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3), over double the national standard of 35 µg/m3. The World Health Organization guideline states PM2.5 exposure should not exceed a mean of 10 µg/m3 over a year. (Reuters)

NGO raises questions about Indonesian vice-presidential candidate: The NGO Global Witness has raised questions about the role of vice-presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno. In December 2009, Uno was a co-founder and joint owner with others of Recapital Advisers, which took over one of Indonesia’s largest coal companies, Berau Coal. Subsequently, Berau Coal paid at least US$43 million between 2010 and 2012 to a Seychelles-based company named Velodrome Worldwide under an agreement for advice on “key strategic, business and operational aspects” of the company’s business. The agreement was terminated in 2012 when new controlling owners took over Berau Coal. In 2017 it emerged that between October 2007 and May 2009 Uno had been the sole shareholder and director of Velodrome Worldwide, control of which later passed to a Singaporean lawyer. Uno did not answer questions from Global Witness about his role with Velodrome Worldwide. Uno is currently running as the vice-presidential candidate on a ticket headed by Prabowo Subianto, the main opposition candidate challenging President Joko Widodo in the April 17 general election. (Climate Home News, Jakarta Post, Global Witness)

North Carolina regulator orders an end to unlined coal ash dams: In a rebuff to lobbying by the well-connected Duke Energy, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has ordered the utility to excavate coal ash from its six unlined dams and move the waste to new, lined storage impoundments. The DEQ stated that after undertaking “a rigorous scientific review” it found that the best option to protect public health was removal of waste from Duke Energy’s remaining coal ash dams. By December 1, 2019 Duke Energy must also submit action plans to address groundwater contamination caused by leaks from the six current dams. Residents and environmental groups have campaigned for remediation of existing coal ash dams after a February 2014 accident which resulted in 30,000–39,000 tons (27,000–35,000 tonnes) of coal ash waste spilling into the Dan River from a Duke Energy site. Duke Energy claims excavating the six sites will cost between US$4 billion and US$5 billion which it will seek to pass on to its customers. (North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Sierra Club, Platts)

Illegal Colombian coal mines threaten farmers’ water supplies: A recent visit by Colombian environmental groups discovered an estimated 20 illegal coal mining camps covering over 500 hectares near the city of Cucuta. Grappling with already reduced water supplies, 300 farmers recently protested in front of the city hall of Cucuta against the mining operations. Subsequently, officials from the Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Northeast Border (Corponor) expressed concern that the illegal mining is damaging springs on which downstream communities rely for their water supply and are investigating who is behind the mining operations. (InsightCrime)

Australian data reveals coal plant pollution discrepancies: A review of the latest data from the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) has revealed that coal fired power stations account for 49 per cent of all sulphur dioxide emissions and 26 per cent of all fine particle pollution and nitrogen oxides emissions. Analysis of the data revealed significant discrepancies in the amount of pollution among plants. The three brown coal power stations in Victoria emitted far more mercury than plants in other states. The Queensland Government-owned 700 MW Tarong power station emitted more than 2 million kilograms (kg) of fine particle pollution, 15 times more than Origin Energy’s 2880 MW Eraring plant in New South Wales. Environmental Justice Australia, which analysed the data, argues state governments could easily cut fine particle pollution, mercury, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide pollution by over 95 per cent by requiring utilities to install best-available pollution control technology. The NPI data also revealed that Australia’s 92 coal mines emitted 320 million kg of PM10 particle pollution, the second largest source in 2017–18. (Brisbane Times, Environmental Justice Australia)


Australia: Former NSW coal mining executive turns himself in to Queensland Police to face sentencing over A$190,000 (US$135,000) stolen from Newlands Resources.

France: Power grid operator RTE will soon release a plan to close the remaining 3000 MW of coal plants by 2022.

India: Despite alarm over coal dust pollution, Goa State Pollution Control Board renews consent for Jindal’s coal terminal at Mormugoa Port until March 2020.

Papua New Guinea: Minister for Public Enterprises and State Investments asks PNG Power to consider Mayur Resources proposed coal plant.

US: A federal judge has rejected Millennium Bulk Terminals claim that the refusal of Washington State to issue a water permit for a proposed coal terminal violated the foreign commerce clause of the US Constitution.

US: After rejecting ailing coal plant buyout, Navajo Nation President signs proclamation calling on the tribe to pursue clean energy projects.

Zimbabwe: The state-owned power utility Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority is seeking a 30 per cent tariff increase in part to cover the increased costs of coal.

Companies + Markets

MP threatens legal action over proposed coal power agreements: A Philippines MP, Ariel Casilao, has threatened to launch legal action against the chair of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), Agnes Devanadera, if she approves seven 20-year-long power supply agreements sought by companies linked with Manila Electric Company (Meralco). The controversial agreements are for a total of 3551 MW of new coal plant capacity. Casilao’s Bayan Muna party recently supported a petition to the Supreme Court seeking a restraining order to prevent the ERC approving the deals. Bayan Muna and other groups argue the agreements are “sweetheart” deals that would overcharge consumers and were entered into after a deadline requiring competitive selection process for new contracts was delayed to benefit Meralco and its related companies. (Inquirer, Manila Standard)

Coal India boasts of big coal production boost but stockpiles grow: In a statement to the Bombay Stock Exchange the government-owned Coal India has boasted that for the first time ever it has produced over 600 million tonnes of coal in a year. In the year to the end of March 2019 Coal India produced 607 million tonnes of coal, up from 567 million tonnes the year before. Coal India states that 488 million tonnes of its production was supplied to coal power plants, up 34 million tonnes on the year before. However, coal stockpiles at power plants and pitheads have grown substantially to 84.4 million tonnes, up from 55.5 million tonnes the year before. The company has previously warned that coal stockpiled for long periods degrades in quality and is prone to spontaneous combustion. (Economic Times, Coal India)

European greenhouse gas emissions from coal and lignite fall: New European Commission data reveals that greenhouse gas emissions from hard coal power plants fell by nine per cent in 2018 and have now declined by 40 per cent since 2012. However, greenhouse gas emissions from lignite plants fell only by three per cent in 2018. Analysis of the data by the NGO group Sandbag indicates that nine out of the top ten greenhouse gas emitters are now lignite plants, seven of them in Germany. Greenhouse gas emissions from the 4424 MW Neurath plant in Germany grew by eight per cent in 2018 despite the increase in the European Union carbon price. While Germany has proposed a coal phase-out by 2038, the remainder of lignite-fired generation is in Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, none of which have made commitments to phase out lignite. (European Commission, Sandbag)

Australian Government forecaster sees slow decline: The Australian Government’s Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) forecasts declining thermal coal imports by China, India, South Korea and Japan out to 2024. While the OCE suggests small but growing markets such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines may prop up demand for Australian exports, other coal exporting countries including Indonesia, South Africa and Russia are seeking out new markets as European demand declines. OCE also forecasts thermal coal prices in the seaborne market will peak in 2018–19 with Australian export earnings set to decline by 26 per cent by 2023–24. (Australian Government, Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis)

Mongolian coal exporter’s tale of woe continues: The 2018 annual financial statements of aspiring Mongolian coal exporter, South Gobi Resources (SGR), reveal that the company faces formidable challenges. SGR reports that since December 15, 2018 it, along with other Mongolian companies, has been “barred” from exporting its “F-grade” coal to China. SGR reports that there is no guarantee of a favourable outcome of discussions between Mongolian coal producers and Chinese authorities. SGR also reports that it has missed several payments to China Investment Corporation and is in default on its US$21.3 million debenture agreement. The company had hoped to increase the value of its coal sales by building a coal washery at its Ovoot Tolgoi mine to reduce the ash content. However, it reports the plant has only processed 200,000 tonnes of coal and that it is “making improvements” to increase its reliability. SGR states that it is “in discussions” with the contractor who built the washery but cautions shareholders that there is no guarantee that there will be a favourable outcome. It also disclosed that a special committee appointed by the board found 41 million Chinese yuan (US$6.1 million) in transactions it claimed were fraudulent. (South Gobi Resources [pdf])

Japanese benchmark thermal price reportedly settled: Tohoku, Japan’s fourth largest power utility, has reportedly agreed a contract price with Glencore of $94.75 a tonne for 6,300 kilocalories per kilogram coal from Newcastle for April 2019 – March 2020 contracts. Tohoku operates four coal plants with combined capacity of 3200 MW. The annual negotiations with Glencore set the benchmark price followed by other Japanese utilities. The contract price for the previous year was set at US$109.77 a tonne, but the negotiations, which are usually concluded around early April, were not completed until August 2018. One US analyst firm, Seaport Global, estimates the falling seaborne thermal coal price could result in a decline of US exports of 15–20 per cent by 2020. In 2018 the US exported 54 million short tons (49 million tonnes) of thermal coal. (Platts, Platts)


Boom and Bust 2019: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline, Global Energy Monitor, March 2019. (Pdf)

(The report is also available in Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Turkish and Vietnamese. The media release on the report is here.)This 14-page report is the fifth annual update on global coal plant proposals, construction and retirements.

Hazy Perceptions, Vital Strategies, March 2019. (Pdf)

This 37-page report analyses news coverage and social media conversations from 2015 to 2018 on air pollution in in South and Southeast Asia. It finds that there is a significant gap between the causes of air pollution and the public perception of its sources.