April 7, 2021
Issue 364  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The latest update on the global coal plant fleet contains both good and bad news. The good news is the future expansion of coal capacity is increasingly confined to a handful of countries – China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Turkey being the largest. The bad news is the sheer scale of China’s coal expansion continues to outweigh the work of other countries in phasing out coal plants and cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. Even so, the retreat from coal continues. Germany has finalised an auction for further coal plant retirements. In India, a utility owned by the Karnataka state government has ruled out further coal projects, while a government official suggested it may consider a phase-out of its existing coal fleet. As one Indian journalist suggests, strange times lie ahead for India’s coal economy.

If the high health costs are one of the factors driving a retreat from coal plants, India’s decision to once again delay the deadline for meeting pollution control standards reflects the power of the electricity utilities. In Australia, a major water pollution event associated with the failure of a tailings dam at a coal mine has drawn minimal sanctions. In the US, FirstEnergy has refused to apologise to the Asian American community for anti-Chinese ads run in Ohio less than two years ago by one of the groups it has funded to help defend the coal and nuclear bailout law.

Bob Burton


Most countries are making progress on phasing out coal—but not fast enough to offset China’s expansion

Despite more countries officially setting coal phase-out deadlines, the major expansion of coal capacity in China since 2018 means the world as a whole is not much closer to the 1.5 degrees pathway than it was two and a half years ago, writes Lauri Myllyvirta for the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Strange times ahead for India’s coal economy

With the glut of thermal power supply and the declining health of distribution utilities it’s hard not to wonder if thermal power in India has already peaked, writes M Rajshekhar in Carbon Copy.

What will happen to Cesar, Colombia when the mines close?

The Swiss mining company Glencore has said it will withdraw from Cesar department of Colombia, where they operate two mines, making residents fear the company will skip out on its legal obligations to the affected communities, writes Thomas Power in Latin America News Dispatch.

Coal mining in the British Columbian Rockies could grow dramatically

Four proposed projects are undergoing environmental review in the Rockies, where open-pit coal mining is tied to longstanding pollution concerns, writes Ainslie Cruickshank in The Narwhal.

Top News

China’s coal plant building spree saw global capacity rise in 2020: Global coal plant capacity increased by 12,500 megawatts (MW) in 2020 in large part due to 38,400 MW of new coal plants commissioned in China. China’s coal plant spree accounted for 76 per cent of the 50,300 MW of new coal plants commissioned in 2020. Total Indian coal capacity increased by just 700 MW with 2000 MW commissioned and the retirement of 1300 MW of old plants. Coal plant retirements reached 37,900 MW with 11,300 MW closed in the US and 10,100 MW in the European Union. (Global Energy Monitor)

Indian state rules out more coal plants, considers phase-out of existing fleet: The managing director of the state-owned Karnataka Power Corporation (KPC), V Ponnuraj, said the utility has “decided to stop investing in thermal power plants any more”. While KPC plans to keep its existing plants operating, an anonymous government official said the state government was considering closing its coal plants within five years. “With the thermal power sector being a dying market and more research being undertaken on power storage vis-a-vis renewable energy, Karnataka will consider the possibility of phasing out the plants,” the government official said. (Times of India)

No apology from US utility that funded group behind anti-Chinese ads: In the wake of recent attacks on Asian Americans, FirstEnergy —the utility at the centre of the Ohio utility scandal —tweeted its condemnation stating “we remain committed to standing against discrimination”. However, in 2019 Ohioans for Energy Security, a group funded by FirstEnergy, ran anti-Chinese ads in an effort to block a petition calling for the repeal of the nuclear and coal bailout law HB6. “They took our manufacturing jobs. They shuttered our factories. Now, they’re coming for your energy jobs. The Chinese government is quietly invading our American electric grid,” one ad intoned. The Energy and Policy Institute noted FirstEnergy has never apologised to the Asian American community. The bailout law undermined Ohio’s energy efficiency standards, a change which Gabel Associates, an energy consultancy, estimates will cost consumers US$2 billion in higher power costs and US$7 billion in health care costs from pollution. (Gizmodo, Grist)

South32 cops minimal fine for collapse of coal tailings dam: Environmental groups have condemned a decision by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to fine South32 just A$15,000 (US$11,400) for the collapse of a tailings dam at its Dendrobium metallurgical coal mine in August 2020. The collapse of the dam resulted in 10 million litres of coal sludge flowing into two creeks. Under state legislation the maximum penalty is A$1 million but the EPA can impose a penalty of up to $15,000 without prosecution. Jessica Whittaker, a local resident who raised the alarm about pollution from the mine, said she was “gutted” by the small fine. “You can get fined A$8,000 (US$6100) for pouring paint into a drain — and we're fining a coal company that released 10 megalitres of coal sludge into a suburban creek A$15,000?” (ABC, Environment Protection Authority)

India defers coal plant pollution compliance deadline again: In response to lobbying by power utilities, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) has once again delayed the compliance deadline for coal plants to meet pollution standards. The standards were first announced in December 2015 to come into effect in December 2017 but this deadline was extended to 2019 and then 2022. In its April 1 announcement MOEFCC said plants within 10 kilometres of New Delhi and other cities with over 1 million people have until December 3, 2022 to meet the standards. Plants within 10 kilometres of critically polluted areas or other polluted cities would have until December 31, 2023 to comply with the standards while all other plants will have until December 31, 2024. Environmental groups said the new plan would impose significant health costs on Indian citizens. (Economic Times, Reuters)

Taiwanese protest calls for accelerated shut down of coal plant: Organisers of a public protest over air pollution in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, have called for the immediate closure of all four coal units at the 2100 MW Hsinta plant and at least one of the blast furnaces at China Steel Corporation’s steelworks. South Taiwan Air Clear said air pollution is so bad the life expectancy of Kaohsiung residents is the lowest among the country’s six special municipalities. In late 2017 Taipower said the 500 MW coal-fired units 1 and 2, which were first commissioned in 1982 and 1983, would be decommissioned in 2023 with the other two coal units closed in 2026. The following year the Environmental Protection Administration said the last two units would be closed in 2024 but Taipower is now insisting they remain as backup units until the end of 2025 after new gas units have been commissioned. (Focus Taiwan, Taipei Times, Global Energy Monitor)


Europe: Study estimates air pollution from European coal plants could cause 34,000 premature deaths a year.

Greece: Four closed lignite units, with a combined capacity of 1200 MW, finally removed from utility PPC’s operating licence.

Japan: Japan Bank for International Co-operation has agreed to loan up to US$53 million for Japanese trading house Sojitz's coking coal projects in Australia.

US: A subsidiary of American Resources Corporation has agreed to pay US$200,000 to settle outstanding penalties and clear the way for production at its Perry County mine in Kentucky.

US: Barge carrying coal ash founders just off Florida coast raising concerns it may break up in heavy seas.

US: West Virginia legislature considering a bill requiring utilities to maintain coal burn at 2019 levels.

Companies + Markets

Second German auction approves bids for three more coal closures: Germany’s Federal Network Agency, has accepted bids for the closure by December 8, 2021 of three further coal plants with a combined capacity of 1514 MW. The three successful bids were for the closure of Uniper’s 757 MW Kraftwerke plant (also known as the Wilhelmshaven plant), Kraftwerk Mehrum’s 690 MW Mehrum power station and Central German Braunkohlengesellschaft’s 67 MW unit. A further round of tenders for coal plant closures is scheduled for April 30, 2021. (Renewables Now)

UK sanctions Myanmar military company, increasing pressure on banks backing Adani: The UK Government has announced sanctions against Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a military-linked company. The government said the immediate sanctions would “prohibit funds and economic resources being made available to any subsidiaries ‘owned or controlled’” by MEC. It was recently revealed that Adani Ports has provided funds to MEC for leases for a port project in Yangon. In the wake of the UK Government announcements the Australian NGO Market Forces has called on Barclays, Standard Chartered, HSBC and BlackRock to end their ties with Adani Ports. (UK Government)

South 32 pays to offload its South African thermal coal mines: South32 has proposed revised terms for the sale of its four South African thermal coal mines to Seriti Resources including the payment of US$200 million in ten annual instalments towards the rehabilitation costs of closed mines. The proposed terms of the sale require the approval by the South African Treasury and Eskom of changes to the coal supply agreement for the Duvha power station. South32 has also agreed to provide a US$50 million fund to cover the restructuring costs of loss-making mining areas and to act as guarantor on a $US120 million loan for working capital Seriti is seeking from a South African commercial bank. South32 is seeking the completion of the transaction in the next quarter. (Australian Financial Review [paywall], South32 (pdf])

US coal baron governor ordered to pay US$6.8 million for breach of contract: A US federal court judge in has ordered West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and one of his companies, Bluestone Energy Sales Corporation, to pay US$6.8 million for breaching a 2017 contract with Xcoal Energy and Resources. Xcoal had been promised 720,000 tonnes of metallurgical coal for the export market with 30,000 tonnes to be delivered monthly for a two-year period. However, Xcoal received less than 24,000 tonnes of coal over seven months. Justice was elected as a Democratic nominee for Governor in late 2016 with the support of the United Mine Workers but shortly afterwards switched allegiance to the Republican Party. He was re-elected in 2020 as a Republican with the support of the West Virginia Coal Association. (Borneo Bulletin)

Indonesian utility continues to back growth in coal power: Indonesia’s government-owned utility, PLN, has released a report proposing 3500 MW of new mine-mouth coal plant capacity will come online by 2030 with a further 12,500 MW of other coal plants. PLN estimates if all the coal plants come online the domestic power sector would consume between 140 million and 170 million tonnes of coal. This would be an increase of 33 to 62 per cent on the 105 million tonnes consumed in 2020. Major Indonesian coal companies see growth in domestic coal generation as providing an alternative to softening prices and demand in the international market. However, PLN’s willingness to enter into generous power purchase agreements for new private coal projects has crippled the utility’s finances. (Argus)

Russian Government slashes coal production forecast: The Russian Government has slashed forecast coal production for the next three years. In amendments to the state program for energy development the previous target of 455 million tonnes in 2021 has been cut to 390.7 million tonnes. The latest forecast is for 389.5 million tonnes of coal in 2022 and 2023, down from the previous estimate of 465 million tonnes and 475 million tonnes respectively. It is estimated coal production could increase to 420 million tonnes in 2024. (Sputnik)


Boom and Bust 2021: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline, Global Energy Monitor and others, April 2021 (Pdf).

The report is also available in Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Turkish, Vietnamese and Hindi.This 23-page report provides an update on the construction and retirement of coal plants worldwide.

Fossil Fuelled Foolery 2.0: An Illustrated Primer on the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Deceptive Tactics, NAACP, April 2021.

This 60-page report describes the common tactics used by the US fossil fuel industry and documents local campaigns in communities of colour against pollution and for a clean energy economy.

The 'Real Costs of Coal: Mugla, Climate Action Network Europe, April 2021.

This 78-page report documents the social and environmental costs of coal developments in Mugla province in Turkey. The report, which was first published in mid-2019 in Turkish, is now available in English.