November 15, 2018
Issue 254  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The latest International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook has once more downgraded the outlook for coal and acknowledged how there is no climate space for new unabated coal power plants. However, the most ambitious scenario the IEA maps out is not for the 1.5 degree target mentioned in the Paris Agreement but for a two-thirds chance to staying below a 2 degree temperature increase.

Meanwhile, on-the-ground pressure against coal continues to mount. In Taiwan, a rally of 5000 people demanded that the Environment Protection Authority ensure the early closure of two coal plants and other pollution sources in and near Kaohsiung city. In the US, the Oakland City Council has cancelled the lease for a proposed freight terminal which included a coal port. In South Africa, Gauteng High Court has overturned a permit for a new mine in a protected area. The Italian insurance company Generali has also ruled out insuring new coal plants and thermal coal mines. In the US, a jury has cleared the way for workers on a coal ash dam clean-up to seek damages over the impact on their health.

The economics of coal power continue to erode. The latest Lazard power generation cost data for the US spells out the trend clearly: the price of solar and wind power has fallen so far they are now undercutting fully depreciated existing coal plants. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, long touted by the coal industry as a climate solution, are now so expensive they have no prospect of closing the financial gap with renewables. With China dominating global consumption of thermal coal, reports that China is considering a further increase in its solar power target for 2020 provide welcome news.

Bob Burton


The International Energy Agency slowly turns its back on coal

The IEA has effectively abandoned the thermal coal industry, saying coal generation would have to be drastically scaled down if the world has any hope of getting anywhere near the targets needed to address climate change, writes Giles Parkinson in RenewEconomy.

Global coal use may have peaked in 2014, says latest IEA World Energy Outlook

The world may never again use as much coal as during a peak in 2014, according to the latest World Energy Outlook, writes Simon Evans in Carbon Brief.

New renewables cost data closes off coal power’s CCS escape route

The latest power generation costs data by the consultancy Lazard’s reveals that coal industry’s preferred climate escape route of promoting carbon capture and storage (CCS) on coal power plants has disappeared, writes Bob Burton in EndCoal.

The wrangle over European Union electricity market rules that could make or break new coal

As negotiations over the reform of the European Union electricity market are nearing an end, the final meetings will determine whether to end subsidies to coal plants through a so-called capacity mechanism or let them run for another decade, writes Joanna Flisowska from Climate Action Network Europe in Euractiv.

What the US mid-term elections mean for moving beyond coal

The US mid-term election created new opportunities and some challenges for the campaign to move beyond coal, writes Mary Ann Hitt from the Sierra Club.


South African court overturns coal mine approval in protected area

Gauteng High Court has ordered that the 2016 decision of two South African ministers to approve the development of a coal mine in the Mabola Protected Environment be set aside and the application be reconsidered. A coalition of eight environment and citizens groups argued the former Minister for Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane and the late Minister for Environment, Edna Molewa, inappropriately approved Atha-Africa’s proposed Yzerfontein mine in a strategic water source area and a protected area without public consultation. The court found the decision was not made in an open and transparent manner and ruled the decision be set aside. Judge Norman Davis also noted that a “disturbing feature” of the original decision was that the local affiliate of the Indian company behind the project “is, to an extent, ‘politically connected’.” (Center for Environmental Rights, High Court of South Africa)

Top News

5000 protest against Taiwanese coal plants: An estimated 5000 people protested in Kaohsiung city against air pollution including from existing and proposed coal power stations. The Southern Taiwan Anti-Air Pollution Alliance is demanding, among other measures, that the city government limit local plants’ coal use and the Taiwan Power Company convert coal-fired units at two coal plants to run on gas. Ahead of the march, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) announced that the four coal units at the 2100 megawatt (MW) Singda plant would be retired by 2023 at the earliest and converted to gas. In late 2017, it was reported that the last two coal units at the plant were scheduled to close in 2026. However, the EPA also defended pollution control standards at the existing 1250 MW Dalin plant and the 1600 MW expansion proposed on the site. Further rallies are planned. (Taipei Times, FocusTaiwan)

US city cancels lease for proposed coal port land: The Oakland City Council has terminated its lease with developer Phil Tagami, who proposed to build the US$250 million Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal which included a coal export terminal. An Oakland City Council ban on coal exports was overturned by a federal court judge but that decision is being appealed. The council said Tagami’s company has not met construction milestones agreed upon in the lease and on October 23 was served with a notice of default and ordered to pay US$1.6 million in damages. The council insists its decision is unrelated to the issue of coal exports. Four Utah counties proposed to invest US$53 million in the coal terminal which would provide access to the Pacific coal market for Wolverine Fuels, previously known as Bowie Resources, which operates coal mines in the state. Tagami has flagged he will challenge the council’s lease cancellation decision. (East Bay Times)

Generali bows to pressure and backtracks on insuring some coal: The Italian insurance company Generali has bowed to growing pressure and ruled out providing insurance for new coal plants and mines. The company also announced it will no longer accept as new clients companies that derive over 30 per cent of their energy production or revenues from coal. However, Generali’s new policy includes significant loopholes. It does not exclude the company from insuring existing coal projects and allows them to cover the upgrading and retrofitting of coal power plants owned by existing clients. (Reuters, Unfriend Coal, Generali)

US jury finds coal ash clean-up workers were endangered by contracting company: A US District Court jury has found that Jacobs Engineering did not “exercise reasonable care” to keep workers safe when cleaning up the December 2008 coal ash spill from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Fuel Power Plant in Tennessee. The jury finding clears the way for the workers and their families to seek damages from Jacobs Engineering to cover medical expenses. It is estimated 30 workers exposed to the coal ash in the course of the clean-up have died and a further 250 are sick or dying. (Knox News)

“We have no room to build anything that emits CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions,”

said Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency.


Australia: Worker dies after circuit-breaker explosion at Yallourn power station.

Australia: Adani haggles over who should pay for coal railway upgrade costs for the proposed Carmichael mine.

Bulgaria: Legal challenge launched against the validity of permits for the 908 MW Maritsa III plant.

Canada: Collapse of coal storage silo at Elk Creek processing plant forces Ramarco Resources to declare force majeure for remaining 2018 contracts.

India: Two arrested over attempted murder of civil society activist Agnes Kharshiing and two assistants, who were documenting illegal coal mining in Meghalaya state.

Pakistan: Government urges regulator to cut the permitted profit margin on imported coal plants.

Pakistan: General Electric enters deal to provide boiler for 330 MW Thar lignite power plant.

“We have reached an inflection point where, in some cases, it is more cost effective to build and operate new alternative energy projects than to maintain existing conventional generation plants,”

said George Bilicic, the vice chairman and global head of Lazard’s Power, Energy & Infrastructure Group.

Companies + Markets

IEA cuts outlook for thermal coal: The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook to 2040 sees solar outcompeting new coal “almost everywhere” by the end of the forecast period and wind and solar generation growing by three and five times respectively. While the IEA’s Executive Director, Fatih Birol, noted the “growing disconnect between the new international [climate] research and what is happening in the energy market”, the agency’s report fails to address the scenario to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature increase to as close to 1.5 degrees as possible. The IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, which is not its central scenario, assumes a 59 per cent decline in the global trade in thermal coal. The report has also been criticised for its reliance on outdated costs data for wind and solar generation. (Guardian, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis)

Lazard’s finds new renewables are undercutting existing coal in the US: In its latest estimates of US power generation, the financial advisory firm Lazard estimates that the unsubsidised cost of US utility-scale solar is between US$40 and US$46 per megawatt-hour (MWh) and wind power is now US$29–56 per MWh. The lowest estimated cost of new coal power is US$60 per MWh while the marginal cost of some fully depreciated existing US coal plants is between US$27 and US$45 per MWh. Lazard estimates that, after allowing for US federal tax credits, onshore wind generation costs between US$14 and US$47 per MWh while utility-scale solar ranges between US$40 and US$46 per MWh. Lazard notes that new renewable generation is now in a position to undercut existing fully depreciated coal plants. Lazard found the cost of utility-scale solar fell by 13 per cent over the last year and onshore wind by almost 7 per cent. (Utility Dive, Lazard, Lazard)

China considers increase in solar target: China’s National Energy Agency is reportedly considering increasing the 2020 target for solar power to at least 210,000 MW or possibly even as high as 275,000 MW. China’s 2020 solar target was originally set at 105,000 MW but already been exceeded by over 50 per cent with the current installed capacity of solar as of September 2018 estimated at 165,000 MW. The increased target is being considered as a measure to support the domestic solar manufacturing industry which has been hit by measures introduced in May to curtail domestic solar installations. Analysts estimate there may be as much as 30,000 MW a year of solar manufacturing overcapacity. If the 210,000 MW target is adopted, an additional 20–25,000 MW could be installed in 2019 and 2020. A 2020 target of at least 250,000 MW could increase solar deployment in the next two years by 40,000 MW a year. (PV Magazine)

South Korean advisory group urges increased renewables target: An advisory group to the South Korean Government has recommended that the 2019–2040 power supply plan, which is due to be released in December, should set a renewable energy target of between 25 and 40 per cent by 2040. The current plan, which was released last year, set the renewable energy target as 20 per cent by 2030. With growing public pressure over air pollution and South Korea’s heavy reliance on imported fuels, the government is looking to measures to cut pollution and reduce spending on imported fuel. (Reuters)

Indonesia signs coal gasification deal with US company: Pertamina and PT Bukit Asam, which are government-owned oil and coal mining companies respectively, have entered into an agreement with the US-based Air Products and Chemicals to develop a coal gasification project at the Peranap mine in Riau province. It is proposed the plant would produce 50 million standard cubic feet per day of synthetic natural gas and 400,000 tonnes a year of dimethyl ether. (Dimethyl ether can be used as a substitute for propane in LPG or as a replacement for diesel in the transport sector.) Few other details of the agreement have been released. In early November Air Products bought General Electric’s gasification business, including its half-share in a joint venture with China Shenhua Coal to Liquid and Chemical Company. (Jakarta Post, Air Products)

Mongolian Government talks up China rail link despite market uncertainties: The Mongolian Government continues to promote proposed construction of a railway link from the Tavan Tolgoi mine to the Chinese border to cater for the export of 30 million tonnes of coal a year. An executive with the company running the government-owned Tavan Tolgoi mine said that the railway could be built within two years of a successful initial public offering of the company. However, analysts consider demand for metallurgical coal from Mongolia is uncertain as Chinese steel production is likely to be near its peak. Over the last decade the Mongolian government have repeatedly proposed selling part of the Tavan Tolgoi project but without success. (Reuters)

SUEK plans on expanding Russian coal exports: Siberian coal company SUEK, which currently produces 110 million tonnes of coal, plans to increase production by about 20 million tonnes a year over the next five years with increased exports targeted at the Asian market and China in particular. In the wake of sanctions and the depreciation of the rouble, Russia is seeking to double coal exports to the Asian market by 2025 through ports in the Far East. SUEK, the world’s third largest coal exporter after Glencore and BHP, currently exports about half its coal production to European and Asian markets. Russia is projected to produce 420 million tonnes of coal in 2018, exporting over 200 million tonnes. A new ferry service is set to “open soon” enabling coal deliveries directly from Vladivostok in Russia to POSCO’s steelworks in Pohang in South Korea. (Reuters, Tass)

Drummond cancels sale of Colombian mines: The US-headquartered Drummond Company has cancelled the possible sale of at least a portion of its operations in Colombia. In November 2017, Drummond hired Goldman Sachs to advise on the potential sale of some or all of the Mina Pribbenow and El Descanso thermal coal mines and the Puerto Drummond export terminal. Colombian coal exports have been hit by declining European demand while Drummond has also been singled out as a supplier of ‘blood coal’ and been shunned by some European buyers. Earlier this month Colombia’s chief prosecutor's office reopened an investigation into allegations that Drummond funded right-wing paramilitary units operating in Cesar province during the country’s civil war. (Drummond)


World Energy Outlook 2018, International Energy Agency, November 2018. (The media release is here, the 11-page executive summary here and the presentation here. The full report costs €150 (US$169) for a pdf copy with non-profit organisations eligible for a 30 per cent discount.)

This 662-page report, which includes a detailed chapter on coal, provides an overview of global energy trends and the shift towards cleaner energy, albeit with a rather conservative bent.

Many Voices, Many Solutions: Innovative Mine Reclamation in Central Appalachia, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Appalachian Voices and others, November 2018. (Pdf)

This 35-page report documents examples of communities in Appalachia reclaiming abandoned coal mining sites for new economic development projects.