November 1, 2018
Issue 252  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

A new World Health Organization report has put the spotlight on the pervasive impact of air pollution, including from fossil fuel power plants, on children’s health. In a similar vein, a new interactive Greenpeace database using satellite data has revealed the significant contribution by coal and other fossil fuel plants to exposure of the public to nitrogen dioxide emissions, a deadly pollutant. In India, a Supreme Court-appointed committee is seeking to ensure unapproved low-quality coal is not imported for use in India’s heavily polluted capital city, Delhi.

In Vietnam, the central government has bowed to Long An Province’s opposition to a new coal plant with a combined capacity of 2800 megawatts (MW). A new study argues that Vietnam, along with Indonesia and the Philippines, is at risk of wasting US$60 billion on coal projects which by the late 2020s will be more expensive than renewables and likely to become stranded assets. In Germany, as protests grow against coal and a commission considers setting an exit date, Vattenfall has flagged that it is considering its options to convert its 1680 MW Moorburg plant, which is not even four years old, to run on gas or biomass.

As coal plant and mine closures continue, debate over developing just transition strategies for affected employees and communities has come to the fore. In Spain, the socialist government has negotiated a transition plan for those affected by the proposed closure of private coal mines later this year. In Australia, the union representing coal miners has released a report comparing some transition strategies in key coal regions of the world.

Bob Burton


Nitrogen dioxide power plant pollution hotspots have been unmasked

Satellite data measuring emissions of nitrogen dioxide, a major pollutant that affects human health and inhibits plant growth, reveals pollution hotspots around the world including many associated with coal and lignite plants, write Lauri Myllyvirta and Emma Howard in Unearthed.

Blood coal: Ireland’s dirty secret

Since 2001, almost 90 per cent of coal burned at Moneypoint power station in Ireland has come from Colombia, with the bulk of that from the controversial Cerrejon mine jointly owned by BHP, Anglo American and Glencore, writes Noel Healy in the Guardian.

How persistent is lignite in Germany’s energy mix?
Despite the recent increase in European Union carbon prices, further policy measures, such as further reform of the carbon market or increased royalties, will be required to push Germany’s lignite-fired power stations out of the market, writes Jan Ondrich in Energy Transition.


Vietnamese Government concedes on provincial coal plant

Vietnam’s national government has bowed to Long An Province’s opposition to a proposed coal plant near Ho Chi Minh City. The plant, proposed to be built in two phases with a combined capacity of 2800 MW, was opposed due to concern about air pollution. The national government’s energy plan had the plant slated to be commissioned in 2025 and 2028. After initially refusing to allow Long An Province to block the plants, Vietnam’s powerful Ministry of Energy and other agencies have conceded they “respect” the decision to oppose the plants by provincial authorities. Long An Province said it wants to proceed with a LNG-fired plant. The decision follows the national government agreeing in late 2016 to scrap the proposed 1200 MW Than Bạc Lieu power station after the province stated its opposition to the coal plants and its preference for an LNG fired project. (Viet Nam News, CoalSwarm)

Top News

New WHO study reveals most children exposed to unhealthy air: A new World Health Organization (WHO) study estimates that in 2016 about 600,000 children died from respiratory illnesses caused by air pollution. The study also estimates that about 93 per cent of the world’s children under the age of 15 breathe air that puts their health and development at serious risk. The WHO emphasised that measures to improve air quality include less reliance on fossil fuels in the energy sector, a shift to renewable energy, and cleaner technologies for home cooking, heating and lighting. At the WHO conference on air pollution the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, said that coal power was not just a climate problem but causing a “public health emergency”. (World Health Organisation, Climate Home)

German coal protests grow and phase-out commission presses on: An estimated 6500 people attended a protest camp pushing for the closure of RWE’s Hambach mine and associated power station. Many protestors blocked the railway line from the mine while others occupied mine equipment. Ahead of the protest the US$85 billion Norwegian investment fund, Storeband, called on RWE shareholders to sell their investments due to the company’s plan to expand the mine. The protest comes as the German Government’s coal phase-out commission has submitted its first but as yet unreleased report on the future of lignite mining regions. The commission is due to submit a further report in November on how to meet the 2020 emissions reduction target with a final report due by the end of the year on a phase-out date for coal power in Germany. (Deutsche Welle, Platts, Ende Gelaende)

Indian panel seeks port enforcement on ban on coal imports for Delhi: The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) is seeking the assistance of port authorities, particularly in the states of Gujarat and Odisha, to help enforce a ban on the unauthorised use of coal in Delhi. The EPCA, which was designated by India’s Supreme Court as the agency responsible for overseeing a plan to protect Delhi’s air quality, is concerned that large quantities of Indonesian and US coal continue to be imported into Delhi despite a June 2018 regulation banning the use of coal. The regulation provided a 90-day period for a switch to approved fuels. Delhi’s only coal plant was recently retired. (Times of India)

Legal action launched against proposed Polish plant: ClientEarth has launched legal action against Enea over the company’s decision to participate in a consortium proposing to build the 1000 MW Ostroleka C plant. ClientEarth, which is a shareholder in Enea, argues the project poses an unacceptable risk to investors due to rising carbon prices, competition from cheaper renewables and exposure to European Union energy reforms on state subsidies for coal power plants. The investment agreement between Enea and Energa, the other utility in the consortium, allows either utility to withdraw from the project before the commencement of construction if it is considered that the plant will be unprofitable. (ClientEarth)

Colombian investigators to interview Drummond executives over paramilitary links: Colombia’s chief prosecutor's office has reopened an investigation into allegations that the US coal company, Drummond Company, funded right-wing paramilitary units in the country’s civil war. Eight Drummond executives have been called to testify over payments allegedly made to Jose Blanco, a company contractor who was sentenced to 38 years in prison over his role in the assassination of two union leaders who worked at a Drummond mine. While Blanco claims Drummond executives ordered the union officials killed, earlier inquiries and court cases have not found against Drummond. The company insists it “has never” supported the paramilitary groups. (The State, Reuters)

US coal executive sentenced to prison for bribery: A former executive of the Drummond Company,  David Roberson, has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison over his role in a conspiracy to bribe former Democratic Party Alabama state politician, Oliver Robinson. US District Judge Abdul Kallon also sentenced a partner in Drummond Company’s law firm, Joel Gilbert, to serve five years in prison for his role in offering Robinson a US$375,000 contract to oppose an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to expand the size of area requiring remediation which would have imposed higher clean-up costs on Drummond. (Sierra)

Australian mining company discloses “financial irregularities” in Indonesia: The small Australian mining company Cokal, which has interests in four coal mining projects in Central Kalimantan, has revealed it is investigating the payment of about A$150,000 (US$106,000) to its Chief Financial Officer and seven other staff from a “supplier of barging services.” The company informed the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) on October 28 that it was “investigating the irregularities” discovered by its auditor, Ernst and Young, which allegedly related to paying for services that were not delivered or charged at market rates. On October 15 Cokal had informed the ASX that its annual report would be delayed due to “limited staff resources” and because the company “has been operating on a lean financial basis.” (Cokal)

US court told that coal ash clean-up workers warned against using dust masks: An environmental scientist, Greg Schwartz, who worked for Jacobs Engineering on the clean-up of the coal ash spill from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Fuel, was told by his boss not to wear a dust mask “because it looked bad” and that a mask wasn’t required. Schwartz told a court hearing that once when he wore a personal air monitor, the dust was tapped out when he gave it to another staff member, a practice he had never encountered before. A Jacobs Engineering safety manager repeatedly told labourers on the clean-up that they could safely eat a pound (a little under half a kilogram) of coal ash daily without any health impacts. Over 50 coal ash spill clean-up workers and family members are suing Jacobs Engineering for unsafe working conditions. (Knox News, Knox News)

“… Continued expansion of coalmines, and support of coal-fired power has no future in a world limited to 1.5C of global warming with today's technology,”

wrote Jan Erik Saugestad, the CEO of Storebrand Asset Management in a letter to the German power utility RWE.


Australia: As state election nears, Victorian Government fast-tracks proposed brown coal-to-hydrogen proposal.

India: Government looks to sell off up to nine per cent of its stake in Coal India.

Kosovo: Prime Minister Haradinaj seeks US Overseas Private Investment Corporation support for Kosovo lignite plant.

Madagascar: Bushveld Minerals subsidiary says it has signed a power purchase agreement for 25 MW of its proposed 60 MW Imaloto Power Project.

Mongolia: Aspire Mining consultant estimates a rail link from the Ovoot coking coal project to the Russian border would cost over US$582 million.

South Africa: Senior executive with Atha Africa Ventures continues Twitter taunts against opponents of Yzermyn coal mine project.

US: The Congressional Research Service finds that the Central Arizona Project, a US Government-owned irrigation project, is not obliged to buy power from the 2250 MW Navajo Generating Station after 2019.

US: Cloud Peak Energy looks to end health benefits for retired miners at the end of 2018.

Companies + Markets

US$60 billion in coal investments at risk in three Southeast Asian countries: A new report by Carbon Tracker estimates that up to US$60 billion invested in coal plants in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines is at risk of being stranded when new solar and wind capacity becomes cheaper than running existing coal plants. The report estimates that solar will be cheaper than coal in Vietnam and Indonesia in 2027–28, with onshore wind becoming cheaper in Vietnam the following year. It says solar power in the Philippines will be cheaper than existing coal in 2028–29. The report estimates US$11.7 billion of coal plants in Vietnam,  US$34.7 billion of projects in Indonesia and US$13.1 billion of assets will be at risk of being stranded due to the falling cost of renewables. (Carbon Tracker)

German utility considers plant conversions to cut potential coal phase-out losses: Faced with the prospect of the forced early closure of some or all of its 2900 MW of coal plant capacity in Germany, the Swedish-owned Vattenfall is investigating the potential conversion of its plants to gas or biomass. One of the plants, the 1682 MW Moorburg plant, which cost 2.8 billion euros (US$3.2 billion), was only fully commissioned in March 2015. Vattenfall board member Tuomo Hatakka said that the 600 MW Reuter West plant and the 100 MW Maobit plant, both of which are in Berlin, would be retired by 2030. (Reuters)

Spanish Government reaches jobs deal on closure plan: The Spanish Government has reached agreement with unions on an employment plan worth €250 million (US$286 million) to ease the impact of the closure of most of the country’s private coal mines later this year.  The mines employ an estimated 1000 miners and subcontractors. Under the plan, miners over 48 will be eligible to participate in an early retirement scheme. Those who wish to continue working will have the option of working on the rehabilitation of mining areas and retraining in emerging green industries. Negotiations are due to start shortly on a similar package for several hundred employees of public-sector coal companies. The Spanish socialist government has also scrapped a punitive tax on the installation of new solar systems. (Guardian, IEEFA)

General Electric losses mount: General Electric (GE) has reported that, despite an earlier restructuring of its power business, it has lost a further US$631 million in the third quarter of the current financial year. The power division, which manufactures turbines for coal and gas plants, suffered an 18 per cent fall in the value of orders and a 33 per cent drop in revenue in the latest quarter compared to the year before. The company also revealed it has written down the “goodwill” value of the company’s power division by a further US$22 billion, bringing the total goodwill write-down in the last year to US$40 billion. GE’s new CEO, Lawrence Culp, plans to split the gas turbine and services off from the power division into a new unit, a move analysts consider is likely to see its business for turbines for coal and nuclear plants sold off. (Reuters, Bloomberg, General Electric)

US coal bailout plan may be revived: The sudden resignation for health reasons of the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Kevin McIntyre, has paved the way for the elevation of Trump administration appointment Neil Chatterjee to head the agency. Chatterjee was interim chairman before McIntyre’s appointment and had originally pushed a bailout plan for  struggling coal and nuclear power plants that was subsequently unanimously rejected by FERC. (Bloomberg)

Indian Supreme Court throws lifeline to Adani, Tata and Essar projects: The Supreme Court of India has directed the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) to draft amendments to allow for increased tariffs in power purchase agreements for Adani Power, Essar and Tata projects in Gujarat. The court directed CERC to submit the changes to the court. However, the court also directed that Energy Watchdog, a group which unsuccessfully argued changes should not be made, could object to any proposed changes before CERC. The three companies’ projects have a combined generating capacity of 9940 MW. Energy Watchdog and the public interest group Prayas unsuccessfully argued that no tariff increase should be imposed on consumers but that the companies’ debts should be resolved under the provisions of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. (LiveMint,  Times of India)

US greenhouse emissions plummet with coal plant closures: The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that US power sector carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 28 per cent since 2005 and are now at their lowest level since 1987. The EIA estimates that lower electricity demand than the 1.9 per cent per annum increase that occurred in the decade to 2005 accounts for half the decline in emissions. Fuel switching from coal and oil to gas accounts for about one-quarter of the decline in emissions and renewables accounted for a similar amount. The EIA notes that US electricity demand has fallen in six of the past ten years. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) estimates that 15,400 MW of coal capacity will close in 2018, setting a new record for coal plant capacity retired in a year.  IEEFA also estimates that, based on announcements to date, an additional 21,400 MW of US coal plants will close over the next six years. (US Energy Information Administration, IEEFA)

Decline of US coal poses challenges for some wallboard manufacturers: The decline in US coal power generation is worrying some building products manufacturers as 45 per cent of US wallboards are made from synthetic gypsum, a by-product from flue gas desulfurization units installed to cut sulphur dioxide emissions. In 2017, power plants produced about 32 million tons (29 million tonnes) of synthetic gypsum, about twice the volume sold to materials companies. As some wallboard manufacturers located their plants next to power stations that are now closing, they are facing higher transport costs to source alternative supplies. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)


Record Drop in U.S. Coal-Fired Capacity Likely in 2018: Utilities Are Accelerating Shutdown Dates as Plants Grow Increasingly Uneconomic, Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis, October 2018. (Pdf)

This 13-page report details how US coal plant closures continue to accelerate as renewables and gas are increasingly cost-competitive.

“The Impact of Coal-Powered Electrical Plants and Coal Ash Impoundments on the Health of Residential Communities”, North Carolina Medical Journal, October 2018.

This paper provides a useful summary of the main pollution impacts associated with coal plants and links to supporting medical journal and other references.

Economic and financial risks of coal power in Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines, Carbon Tracker, October 2018. (Pdf) (Registration required)

This 52-page report presents separate profiles on the financial risks of coal power plants in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines and concludes that renewables could be cheaper than existing coal plants by 2027–2029.

The Ruhr or Appalachia? Deciding the future of Australia’s coal power workers and communities, Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, October 2018. (Pdf)

This 84-page report compares examples of structural adjustment programs, including for the coal industry in the Ruhr Valley in Germany, Appalachia in the US, the Netherlands, South Wales in the UK and coal power stations in Australia.