June 10, 2021
Issue 372  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The announcement by the Polish state utility PGE that it has abandoned a plan for a major new lignite mine and set an end date for Europe’s largest coal plant is indicative of a broader shift underway. The part-built new unit at the Tuzla plant in Bosnia and Herzegovina has reportedly stalled. In South Africa, a court has ruled a key permit for the proposed 600 megawatt (MW) Khanyisa coal-fired power station has expired, effectively ending the prospect the project will proceed further. In a sign that public pressure over India’s appalling air pollution is beginning to bite, the government of Delhi’s National Capital Region is seeking a court order to close 10 polluting coal plants in surrounding states.

On another front, Poland continues to defy the European Court of Justice order to suspend the operation of the Turow lignite mine while the case over its proposed extension is heard. The Czech Republic is now reportedly seeking a court-imposed fine on Poland of €5 million (US$6 million) per day for each day the mine continues to operate.

As existing and proposed projects wither in the face of community pressure and legal challenges, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has tuned up the pressure on the insurance industry by calling on it to stop underwriting coal and other fossil fuel projects.

Bob Burton


Turow dispute is indicative of where Poland’s European Union future is headed

Conflict over the expansion of the Turow lignite mine at the border with the Czech Republic lays bare Poland’s impending collision course with the European Union, writes Piotr Buras in BalkanInsight.

Turkey, Ukraine and Western Balkan countries top the list of European coal power polluters

A small cohort of countries are among the worst creators of pollution from coal plants with Ukraine, Turkey and Western Balkan countries ranking worst and Germany and Poland among the worst for nitrogen oxides pollution, writes Ufuk Alparslan in Ember.


Polish utility abandons proposed lignite mine and sets 2036 end date for Belchatow plant

The decision of Polish utility PGE to abandon the proposed 18 million tonnes a year Zloczew mine near Belchatow has been welcomed by local communities and environmental groups. PGE said the proposed mine would be “permanently unprofitable” and redundant due to the phasing out of the Belchatow power plant. The proposed mine, which would have required the destruction of 33 villages and forced relocation of 3000 people, faced strong community opposition. PGE revealed the abandonment of the mine as part of a pitch for funding from the European Union's Just Transition Fund including for a wind farm, a solar project and energy storage. PGE unveiled its proposal to progressively close the 12 lignite units at the 5420 MW Belchatow lignite plant by 2036. The plant is the largest coal plant in Europe and one of ten largest in the world. As a result of the progressive phase out of the units, the Belchatow and Szczercow lignite mines will close in 2026 and 2038 respectively. The Belchatow mine was previously expected to operate until 2040. Greenpeace said it is “unrealistic” for PGE to plan on the plant being viable for another 15 years and instead needs to close the plant by 2030. (PGE, Global Energy Monitor, Greenpeace Poland [Polish])

South African coal project collapses after court ruling

The Pretoria High Court has ruled the environmental approval for the planned 600 MW Khanyisa coal-fired power station has expired, effectively ending the prospects of the plant proceeding. The May 27 order has been welcomed by groundWork, an environmental justice group, which launched legal action in 2017 against the plant proposed by the Saudi Arabian company ACWA Power. Initially groundWork launched legal action seeking to set aside the environmental approval for the plant on the grounds that climate change impacts had not been properly assessed. It was later discovered the environmental authorisation for the Khanyisa project had lapsed in October 2018. In July 2020 the Water Tribunal set aside the water use licence for the plant over its failure to conduct adequate public consultation. Without a water licence and environmental authorisation construction cannot proceed. (Center for Environmental Rights)

Top News

Speculation proposed lignite plant in Bosnia and Herzegovina has stalled: Anonymous officials from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina have suggested the proposed 450 MW unit 7 at the Tuzla lignite plant has stalled. According to the source the project is unlikely to proceed as General Electric, which was to supply the turbine and generator for the unit, has withdrawn from the project consortium. The state-owned electricity utility, Elektroprivreda Bosne i Hercegovine, has reportedly told the government the two Chinese companies building the unit – Gezhouba Group and Guangdong Electric Power Design Institute – want to renegotiate the agreement for the plant. However, this appears unlikely. The government also faces the prospect that unless carbon prices are factored into the cost of electricity from the plant, power exports to the European Union could be subject to the proposed carbon border adjustment mechanism. (Balkan Green Energy News)

Delhi government seeks court order to shut 10 polluting coal plants: The government of the National Capital Territory, which covers Delhi city, is seeking a court order requiring the closure of 10 polluting coal plants in the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The Minster for Environment of the Delhi-NCR region, Gopal Rai, said the Modi Government had failed to enforce new pollution control standards for particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which were originally scheduled to take effect in December 2017. Since then the deadline for compliance for the 10 plants has been repeatedly delayed, most recently until the end of 2022. (The Wire, Indian Express)

Calls for Poland to be fined over defiance of court ruling: The Czech Government plans to request the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to fine Poland €5 million (US$6 million) for each day the Turow lignite mine continues to operate in defiance of a court ruling that direct operations be suspended. In May the ECJ ordered an immediate suspension of work at the mine while a legal challenge against the extension of the permit for the mine is heard. The dispute comes as the European Union has approved allocations from the €17.5 billion (US$21 billion) Just Transition Fund, with Poland set to be the biggest beneficiary. However, the European Commission warned the Bogatynia region risks missing out if Poland extends the life of the Turow mine near the border with the Czech Republic. (Barrons, EU Observer)

Australian coal company pleads guilty to massive water grab: Whitehaven Coal has pleaded guilty to the theft of one billion litres of water at its Maules Creek coal mine between July 2016 and June 2019. The investigation of the company followed complaints by local farmers that the company was using dams to illegally store rainfall and water runoff which it did not have a licence for. Lock the Gate, which obtained court records revealing the company pleaded guilty on April 9, has called for the company to be stripped of its right to operate. The company, which has not informed shareholders it has pled guilty, faces a fine of up to A$2.2 million (US$1.7 million) when it is sentenced in August. (NBN News, Lock the Gate)

US utility subpoenaed to provide records on Ohio bailout bill: American Electric Power (AEP) has been subpoenaed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission to provide documents “relating to the benefits to the company” from the adoption of the HB6 coal and nuclear bailout bill at the centre of the Ohio corruption scandal. AEP is the largest shareholder in Ohio Valley Electric Corporation, a utility operating two coal plants that have received US$120 million in subsidies from the HB6 bill. Just days earlier it was revealed AEP had resumed political donations, contributing US$20,000 in April to the Ohio House Republican Alliance. FirstEnergy, which contributed most funding to the campaign for the HB6 legislation, has announced the termination of a senior executive responsible for regulatory affairs, Eileen M. Mikkelsen, for her “inaction” over an amendment to “purported consulting agreement” with an individual subsequently appointed as a regulator with oversight of the company’s electric utilities. (Akron Beacon Journal, AEP, FirstEnergy, Energy and Policy Institute)

Report reveals over 400 new coal mines under consideration: A report by Global Energy Monitor reveals mining companies are considering plans for up to 432 new coal projects with a combined annual capacity of 2.28 billion tonnes. Three-fourths of the new capacity is at an early stage of planning while the remainder, accounting for 614 million tonnes per year, is currently under construction. Over three-quarters of the projects under consideration are in just four countries: China, Australia, India and Russia. The report is based on an analysis of data in the Global Coal Mine Tracker which includes every operating mine producing 5 million tonnes or more per year. A 2020 study by the United Nations Environment Program estimated coal production needs to decline by 11 per cent a year to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global heating to a 1.5°C temperature increase over pre-industrial levels. (Reuters, Global Energy Monitor)

Indonesia clarifies slow coal power phase after planned plants built: In the wake of international coverage of Indonesia’s movement away from coal power, an official from state-owned utility PLN confirmed the transition would occur slowly with only three small plants with a combined 1100 MW capacity closing by 2030. In 2015 President Jokowi proposed 35,000 MW of new power capacity with 60 per cent coal plants. Fitch Solutions estimates none of the plants proposed as part of the scheme will be cancelled as one-quarter have already been built with the balance either under construction or having reached financial close. (Reuters, Eco-Business)

“We need net zero commitments to cover your underwriting portfolios, and this should include the underwriting of coal — and all fossil fuels. COP 26 must signal the end of coal,”

said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the Insurance Development Forum in London.


Australia: Federal court rejects trade mark infringement claim against Greenpeace by major coal plant operator AGL.

Australia: Failure of 18-year-old pipe triggered failure of a sediment dam at South32’s Dendrobium metallurgical coal mine, resulting in a spill of over 10 million litres of wastewater into creeks.

Bangladesh: Petition calls for end of harassment of workers of Banshkhali coal-fired power plant after police arrest engineer over a Facebook post.

Colombia: Unemployed mine workers blockade Cerrejon’s coal railway.

Germany: Carbon price forces the retirement of the last lignite unit at the Chemnitz-Nord plant to be brought forward by six years.

South Africa: Eskom seeks approval for 8.5 billion rand (US$620 million) in extra revenue this year.

UK: Insurance Rebellion sets off stink bomb at Lloyd’s of London offices.

US: Federal government argues Supreme Court shouldn’t hear Wyoming and Montana’s challenge over permits for now bankrupt Millennium coal export port in Washington state.

US: West Virginia Governor and coal baron Jim Justice is personally liable for US$700 million in loans to his coal companies from the collapsed financial services firm, Greensill Capital.

US: Appeals court upholds convictions of former Drummond executive and lawyer for bribing an Alabama state Democratic legislator to oppose the clean-up of a coal Superfund site.

US: Coalition of environmental groups argues coal ash compliance cost for Great River Energy’s 1210 MW Coal Creek lignite plant in North Dakota means closure is the best option.

“Thermal [coal] is dead on arrival. I just don't think there's capital out there for virtually any types of thermal development,”

said Randall Atkins, the CEO and Executive Chairman of Ramaco Resources, a US metallurgical coal mining company.

Companies + Markets

As Vietnam’s power plan nears finalization calls for and against coal grow: With Vietnam’s power development plan for 2021–2030 due to be submitted to the central government on June 15 for approval, the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance has called for coal plants opposed by local governments to be ruled out. Ahead of the plan, the publicly owned utility EVN has lobbied for the curtailment of solar generation to limit its impact on power sales from existing coal plants. The Vietnam Energy Association, an energy industry lobby group, has called on the government to replace stalled proposed gas plants with four new coal plants with a combined capacity of 3000 MW. (Lao dong [Vietnamese], Vietnam Energy Association [Vietnamese])

Banks and UN agency push for green steel and cement: The UK and India have launched the Industrial Deep Decarbonization Initiative aimed at promoting demand for low-carbon steel and cement. The initiative, to be coordinated by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, aims to create a coalition in the next three years of at least 10 countries committed to making public procurement commitments for low-carbon steel and cement. Steel and cement sectors are each responsible for between 7 and 8 per cent of energy-related emissions and are major consumers of coal. In a separate development, a coalition of lenders to the steel sector—Citi, Goldman Sachs, ING, Societe Generale, Standard Chartered, and UniCredit—are seeking to define steel sector decarbonization standards. (United Nations Industrial Development Organization, RMI)

Coal India facing increase in labour costs: Coal India, which produces about 80 per cent of India’s domestic coal production, is facing potentially significant higher costs as it begins negotiations over a new five-year labour agreement with unions. Unions are pushing for a 15–20 per cent pay increase, which will result in increased costs of coal supplied to its power station customers. Coal India is facing increased competition from the renewable power sector where costs of new generation are falling while coal generators are exposed to higher fuel costs and pressure to upgrade pollution control equipment. (Bloomberg)

Report warns plants under construction stranded by renewables: A report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) warns that 33,000 MW of coal plants currently under construction in India are destined to become stranded assets due to the continuing decline in the cost of renewables. IEEFA finds new solar tariffs in India are now below the fuel costs of most existing coal plants. However, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) – the national energy planning agency – currently assumes a further 58,000 MW of coal plants will be commissioned by 2030. IEEFA estimates Indian coal capacity may peak at 220,000–230,000 MW by 2025 compared to the CEA’s estimate of 267,000 MW by 2030. IEEFA argues new plants will only be completed if they can access finance at a time when many lenders are retreating from the coal power sector. (Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis)

South32’s South African coal spin-off struggles from launch: Shares in Thungela Resources, which holds Anglo American’s former South African coal mines and 27 per cent stake in the Richards Bay Coal Terminal, slumped on the first day of trading. The company was created to allow Anglo American to exit the thermal coal sector. A report released by a short-seller, Boatman Capital Research (BCR), argued Anglo American had “massively underestimated” the environmental liabilities associated with Thungela’s mines because of proposed rehabilitation standards. BCR estimated the costs could be as much as US$1.36 billion, almost three times the amount Anglo American has provided Thungela with to cover current liabilities. (Fin24, Financial Times)

South Korean pension fund rules out backing for new coal plants: The National Pension Service of Korea, the world’s third-largest pension fund, has decided to rule out providing finance for any new coal power plants. However, the US$766 billion public pension fund has yet to develop a strategy for excluding investments in companies contributing to climate change. South Korea’s Minister of Health and Welfare, Kwon Deok-cheol, who chairs the fund’s investment management committee, said the fund is facing the need to address climate change and emerging issues such as the introduction of the carbon border tax. (Korea Herald)

Investors pressure five Asian power producers to exit coal: An international coalition of investors –including JPMorgan, Fidelity, BNP Paribas and Amundi and Sumitomo Mitsui – are pressing five major Asian power utilities to phase out use of coal in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The five utilities – China Resources Power Holdings and CLP Holdings, Malaysia’s Tenaga Nasional Berhad, Japan’s Chubu Electric Power and J-Power – are major greenhouse gas emitters with significant coal plant capacity. The Asian Investor Group on Climate Change, which has which has 56 members, plans to target Asian utilities not being lobbied by the Climate Action 100+ initiative. (Financial Times)


A Green New Eskom: Transforming power, transforming South Africa, 350Africa.org and the Climate Justice Coalition, June 2021. (Pdf) (The booklet is also available in isiZulu here and Sesotho here.)

This 17-page report outlines a plan to transform South Africa’s public power utility Eskom from the biggest polluter into a force for climate justice.

Ember Mine-to-Plant Explorer, Ember, May 2021.

This website charts global coal flows of both thermal and metallurgical coal from major coal producing countries to coal power plants and steel mills.

Out of sight, out of mind: Impacts of Japanese use of Australian coal, The Australia Institute, Australian Conservation Foundation, Kiko Network, June 2021. (Pdf)

This 24-page report examines the impact on Australia’s environment from catering for Japan’s coal demand.

Rising Risks: Coal Ash in Indonesia, Bersihkan Indonesia, May 2021. (Pdf) (A copy is available in Indonesian here.)

This 40-page report documents the problems with coal ash management in Indonesia which will be exacerbated by President Jokowi’s recent decision to remove coal ash from being classed as hazardous waste.