November 22, 2018
Issue 255  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Two new health studies identify fine particle air pollution from fossil fuels as a major threat to public health. A US study estimates that globally, air pollution is the largest single threat to public health, especially in India and China. In Europe, a study identifies the company-by-company health burden imposed on the community by coal power generators.
The health and economic impacts of coal power are increasingly driving change. In Germany, a court has rejected the proposed assessment of RWE’s proposed 1100 megawatt (MW) Niederaussem lignite plant. Coal plant phase-outs have also been flagged over the last week in Hungary, Slovakia, Spain and the US. A court has also suspended the UK’s capacity market which subsidises mostly fossil fuel power generators. The ruling has raised doubts about Poland’s similar scheme. In China, a ban on further coal imports until after the end of the year is disrupting the Asia-Pacific export market.

Once more, scandals around the world have dogged the coal industry. In South Africa, a damning forensic report has recommended criminal investigations be launched into a raft of Eskom directors and officials. In the US, a jury has indicted a former consultant to the controversial Drummond Company for violating Alabama’s ethics law for state officials. In Australia, a New South Wales whistleblower has alleged, among other issues, that a public official received payments on their credit card from a mining company.

On the economic front the prospects for coal power continue to darken, with Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) now estimating that in most parts of the world, and in particular in key markets such as China and India, renewables are now cheaper or competitive with coal even before considering health or climate costs. Although BNEF caution the current likely rate of coal plant retirements are insufficient to stay within the two degrees temperature increase target, let alone the 1.5 degree goal, the dethroning of coal power is accelerating.

Bob Burton


Environmental concerns abound as Pakistan pursues Chinese-backed coal plants

Chinese-backed coal plants are already having an impact on scarce water supplies villagers rely on and will have far-reaching environmental impacts. The head of renewables in Pakistan’s Ministry of Energy also warns new coal power will cost far more than renewable energy, reports Agence France-Presse in Dawn.

The suspension of the UK’s capacity market is an opportunity for rethink

The unexpected European Court of Justice decision to suspend Britain’s capacity market creates an opportunity to focus on more cost-effective and forward-looking solutions for safeguarding the country’s energy-supply security, writes Gerard Wynn from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Activists urge end to South Korean funding of Indonesia coal plants

Environmental activists in Indonesia have called on South Korean funders to withdraw their support for new coal-fired plants that they warn will be the most polluting in the Southeast Asian country, writes Hans Nicholas Jong in Mongabay.

Greece’s energy future on the line

The European Union could help Greece avoid the high health, environmental and financial costs imposed by the lignite-centred energy strategy, writes Nikos Mantzaris from The Green Tank in Euractiv.

Top News

Study finds fine particle air pollution shortens lives significantly: A study by researchers at the Energy Policy Institute of the University of Chicago estimates that fine particle air pollution, which is largely caused by burning fossil fuels, reduces average life spans in India and China by 4.3 years and 2.9 years more than if their countries met the World Health Organization air quality guidelines. The Air Quality Life Index estimates that air pollution cuts average life expectancy globally by 1.8 years, making it the single greatest threat to human health world-wide. The study notes that about 15 per cent of global PM 2.5 fine particle pollution is attributable to power plants and industrial emissions. (Thomson Reuters Foundation, Air Quality Life Index)

Report reveals health toll for each European coal plant polluter: A new report for Beyond Coal Europe, ‘Last gasp: the coal companies making Europe sick [see ‘Resources' section], reveals that of the 103 companies with coal and lignite plants, just ten utilities were responsible for an estimated two-thirds of the health damage caused by coal power plants. Of the top ten polluters, four (RWE, EPH, Uniper, Steag) had their most polluting plants in Germany, three operated in Poland (PGE, ENEA and ZE PAK), and the remaining three were in the Czech Republic (CEZ), Spain (Endesa), and Bulgaria (Bulgarian Energy Holding).The ten companies are estimated to have caused 7600 premature deaths in 2016. (Beyond Coal Europe)

European coal phase-out gathers momentum: Hungary’s Deputy Secretary of State for Climate, Barbara Botos, has flagged that while the government’s “preferred coal exit date” is 2030, the recent rapid increase in the European Union carbon price is forcing a reassessment of the future of the 876 MW Matra plant, the country’s last big lignite plant. Botos revealed a scenario prepared by the national transmission operator that flagged that coal generation could drop sharply in 2025. Slovakia’s Economy Minister, Peter Ziga, has announced the government will end the US $114 million a year subsidy for the lignite mine by 2023. The mine supplies the 518 MW Novaky power plant which is slated to close by 2023. In Spain, Endesa has announced it will seek approval to close the 1101 MW Teruel and 1051 MW Compostilla plants in 2020. (Climate Home, Reuters, Reuters)

RWE concedes proposed plant unlikely to proceed after court loss: The highest administrative court in the state of North Rhine–Westphalia has ruled there were deficiencies in Bergheim municipality’s approval of RWE’s proposed 1100 MW Niederaussem L lignite plant. Following the court decision, RWE conceded that the chance of the project proceeding were “very small.” The project, which was first proposed in 2011, has been subject to several legal challenges and is now overshadowed by the work of a government-appointed commission seeking to negotiate a phase-out date for coal plants.  A RWE spokesperson said the political and economic conditions required for the project to proceed “weren’t there before the ruling and now they are still not there.” (Montel, CoalSwarm)

US EPA regional administrator indicted over Drummond scandal: The Alabama Ethics Commission has indicted Trey Glenn, the regional chief of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) southeast region, for conspiring to violate the ethics law. Glenn was a US$250-per-hour consultant to Drummond Company at the time the company was opposing EPA moves to extend a clean-up zone to include a former coal processing plant. Prior to his appointment to the EPA in August 2017 by the Trump administration, Glenn and Scott Phillips co-owned Southeast Engineering & Consulting which worked with Drummond’s lawyers on the campaign against expanding the clean-up zone. Phillips, who was a member of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission at the time, has also been indicted. In October 2018 a federal judge sentenced former Drummond Vice-President David Roberson, to two-and-a-half years in prison after being found guilty on six criminal charges including bribing Alabama Democratic Party MP Oliver Robinson to oppose the expansion of the clean-up area. (E&E News,

Report urges criminal investigations be opened over South African coal deals: South Africa’s National Treasury has released a forensic investigation report which recommends that the anti-corruption arm of the police, the Hawks, launch criminal investigations into Eskom’s former acting Chairman, Zethembe Khoza, and three other board members who were members of the utility’s tender committee. The report found irregularities in the 10-year coal supply agreement Eskom agreed to with the Gupta family-owned Tegeta Resources. The report also urges investigations be launched into five Eskom executives over possible bribes relating to the agreement to prepay for coal from Tegeta’s Optimum coal mine and that the former head of generation, Matshela Koko, and former Chief Financial Officer, Anoj Singh, be charged for misrepresentations allegedly made to the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises. Separately, Eskom announced the utility’s head of Group Capital, Abram Masango, had been suspended and an investigation launched into “various allegations of impropriety” against him over the construction of the 4800 MW Kusile Power Station. Masango subsequently resigned. (Mail & Guardian,  Mail & Guardian, City Press, South African Treasury [pdf])

Australian whistleblower alleges mining company paid public servant: A manager of the mining titles unit in the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Planning has claimed she was sacked after repeatedly reporting corruption allegations relating to mining titles in the Hunter Valley. Rebecca Connor said that during her two-year tenure at the agency she reported staff for modifying mining titles, conflicts of interest between staff and the mining industry, the leaking of confidential information to mining companies and mining company payments to a personal credit card of a public servant. The NSW Hunter Valley is dominated by coal mining. Lock the Gate has called for a moratorium on new mining titles and for the allegations to be referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. (Newcastle Herald, Lock the Gate)

US mining company launches NAFTA compensation bid over Alberta coal phase-out: Westmoreland Coal, which went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October, has filed a lawsuit against the Government of Canada claiming it is owed compensation over the Alberta provincial government’s 2030 coal phase-out plan. Under provisions of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allow investors from one the country’s which is party to the agreement to initiate claims directly against the government of another party. Westmoreland argues that Canadian utilities were offered compensation but the mining company, which has five mines in Alberta, is seeking C$500 million (US$380 million) for losses it claims were caused by the 2015 coal phase-out decision. A company spokesperson declined to comment on whether the company had assessed the climate policy risks of its 2013 decision to buy the mines, along with two others in Saskatchewan, in 2013 from Sherritt International for C$465 million (US$353 million.) (Globe and Mail)

Protest rally calls for shut down of huge Taiwan coal plant: An estimated 4000 people marched to Taichung City Hall in the third protest this month against air pollution from coal and other industrial plants. Air Clean Taiwan called on the government to shut down the 5500 MW Taichung Power Plant, one of the world’s largest power plants, which adjoins the city. While the Environmental Protection Administration argued Taichung’s PM2.5 fine particle pollution has been reduced by 18 per cent since 2015, the Chairman of Air Clean Taiwan, Yeh Guang-Perng, said greater reductions had been achieved in other counties. Earlier this decade Taipower proposed adding two new 800 MW coal units to the existing ten coal units at the plant, most of which were built in the 1990s. The two new units are intended to run on gas but the proposal for a new LNG terminal and further increase in air pollution has alarmed residents. (Taipei Times)


Australia: Air pollution modelling estimates that NSW’s five coal plants cause 279 deaths a year.

Germany: Low water in Rhine River disrupts coal shipments for power plants.

India: Agnes Kharshiing now out of danger and her colleague Amita Sangma recovering after attempted murder for documenting illegal coal operation.

Europe: European Bank for Reconstruction and Development draft energy strategy excludes funding support for coal plants.

Malaysia: Despite protests, Sabah state Environment Minister says coal power will be considered. 

Netherlands: Government says it will appeal court decision ordering emissions reduction of at least  25 per cent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

US: Duke Energy admits 24 of its 26 coal ash dams in North and South Carolina breach federal standards.

US: Having failed to gain approvals for new coal export terminal, Millenium lays off 15 per cent of its staff.

Vietnam: Asian Development Bank urges higher feed-in tariff to help curb reliance on coal.

“India has the cheapest new wind and solar anywhere in the world. This poses a profound challenge to the orthodoxy there that coal is king forever,”

states Bloomberg New Energy Finance in its New Energy Outlook 2018.

“#India has the cheapest new #wind and #solar anywhere in the world. This poses a profound challenge to the orthodoxy there that #coal is king forever,” states Bloomberg New Energy Finance in its New Energy Outlook 2018

Companies + Markets

Bloomberg estimates coal power collapse by 2050: Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s (BNEF) New Energy Outlook 2018 estimates global coal power generation will fall from its current 38 per cent share of generation to 11 per cent by 2050 after peaking around 2027. Globally BNEF estimates that in the first half of 2018 the unsubsidised levelised cost of new non-tracking solar is $US70 per megawatt hour (MWh) and onshore wind is US$55 per MWh, with the cost of both down 18 per cent over the last year. In India, BNEF estimates the benchmark prices for onshore wind and solar as US$39 and US$41 per MWh respectively while coal is US$68 per MWh. In China, BNEF estimates the costs of solar and wind are now on a par with coal and cheaper than nuclear and gas. (RenewEconomy, Bloomberg New Energy Finance)

European court suspends UK capacity payments system: The European Court of Justice has suspended Britain’s capacity market after finding that it was not properly investigated by the European Commission before it was approved in 2014. The capacity market was challenged by a UK company, Tempus Energy, which specialises in demand-side response and argued the UK scheme unfairly favoured supply-side generators. The UK has two months in which it can file an appeal against the ruling. To date £3.8 billion (US$4.9 billion) has been allocated under the scheme through seven capacity auctions, most of which has been allocated to fossil fuel plants. Climate Action Network Europe said the ruling also cast doubt over the validity of Poland’s capacity market, which could cost Polish taxpayers up to €14 billion (US$16 billion) by 2030. (Guardian, Climate Action Network Europe, European Court of Justice)

China freezes coal imports as winter stockpiles reach record levels: The Chinese Government will not allow further thermal coal imports in 2018 in order to support domestic coal production. Ahead of the winter heating season Chinese power utilities have amassed large fuel reserves. With air quality restrictions extended from 26 cities in 2017 to 82 cities this year, regulators are also seeking to constrain coal and other industrial plant pollution over winter. The consultancy Wood Mackenzie estimates key state-owned power generating companies have stockpiles of over 90 million tonnes of coal or 30 days’ supply; some coastal power companies have cancelled shipments due to a lack of space in their stockpiles. The new import restrictions have led to a fall in the price of thermal coal in the seaborne market. (Australian Financial Review [paywall], ABC News, Platts)

Australian Greens policy proposes legal ban on use and export of coal: The Australian Greens have amended their climate change policy to include a plan to legislate for a ban on the mining, burning or export of thermal coal by 2030. The Greens propose that export volumes be ratcheted down by setting a declining export limit with each exporter paying A$1 per tonne in the first year. In subsequent years a floor price of A$1 per tonne would be set with the annual export quota auctioned off. The policy proposes up to A$1 billion raised from export auctions be allocated to the Clean Energy Transition Fund to support the reskilling and redeployment of workers in affected coal communities and investment in the clean energy industry. In 2017 Australia exported 203 million tonnes of thermal coal valued at $A22.6 billion (US$ 16.5 billion.) (Guardian, Adam Bandt)

Debt load casts shadow over Cloud Peak Energy: Cloud Peak Energy, the third largest coal producer in the Thunder River Basin, has initiated a “strategic review” of its options which includes “a potential sale of the company” as it faces declining demand, low prices and the need to refinance US$290 million in debt by 2021. In 2017, the company produced 58 million tons (37 million tonnes) of thermal coal from three mines in Montana and Wyoming. Cloud Peak Energy, which was spun off by Rio Tinto in December 2010, has higher operating costs than its main Powder River Basin rivals Peabody Energy and Arch Coal. Cloud Peak Energy’s rivals both slashed their debt levels in recent years after seeking protection from bankruptcy to enable restructuring. (S & P Global, Cloud Peak Energy)

Arkansas utility sets 2030 deadline for coal plant closure: Entergy’s Arkansas subsidiary has entered into a binding agreement with the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association to shutter its 1700 MW White Bluff plant and its 1700 MW Independence plant by 2028 and 2030 respectively.  The agreement requires Entergy to only use low-sulphur coal at the two plants and to limit sulphur dioxide emissions by no later than June 30, 2021. The agreement also requires Entergy to “pursue approval” of 639 MW of new renewable capacity beyond the 181 MW of solar capacity it already has approval for. The two coal plant shutdowns bring the number of coal units scheduled to close to 280 since the launch of the Beyond Coal in 2010. (Arkansas Times, Entergy Arkansas)

BHP settles Singapore transfer pricing claim with Australian Tax Office: BHP, the world’s second largest coal exporter, has agreed to pay A$529 million to settle a dispute over taxes owing on coal and iron ore produced in Australia between 2003 and 2018 but sold through BHP’s marketing hub in Singapore. The Australian Taxation Office had originally estimated BHP owed AS$1.01 billion for the 2003–2013 period of which A$661 million was for tax and the balance for interest and penalties. As part of the agreement BHP agreed that, in future, tax on Australian minerals would be paid in Australia rather than at the zero corporate rate which now applies in Singapore for companies like BHP. (ABC News, Australian Taxation Office)


Holy Grail of Carbon Capture Continues to Elude Coal Industry, Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis, November 2018. (Pdf)

This 34-page report reviews four North American coal projects — Kemper, Boundary Dam, Edwardsport and Petra Nova — which proposed to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology though only two subsequently did. The report finds further deployment of CCS in the power sector is unlikely in the US due to poor economics, among other constraints.

Last Gasp: The coal companies making Europe sick, Greenpeace, Sandbag, November 2018. (Pdf) (The media release is here and modelling and data is here.)

This 44-page report details the air pollution impact on public health by each of the 103 companies that still operate coal power plants in the European Union.