July 9, 2020
Issue 330  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

With no end in sight of the COVID-19 crisis, the impacts are mounting on the coal mining and power sector. In Poland, the COVID-19 outbreak in the coal region of Silesia has further weakened the already struggling coal mining and power sector. Across the border in the Czech Republic, an outbreak affecting 20 per cent of the workforce of the mining company OKD has led it to shut down three more of its mines for six weeks. In South Africa, cases are now being reported in the country’s coal mines. The COVID-19 crisis has also resulted in Indian coal imports falling by almost one-third between April and June. In Indonesia, which is India’s biggest supplier, coal exporters are planning on cutting production by 50 million tonnes this year. In Colombia, a subsidiary of Glencore has requested permission to leave its two mines shuttered due to the market downturn, low prices and community blockades of the rail line it uses to carry its coal to the export terminal.

As coal production struggles, coal power phase-outs are also gaining traction. In Germany, legislation setting a 2038 end date has passed with generous compensation for utilities and affected regions. While the package sets financial and legal hurdles in the way of an accelerated phase-out, it reinforces the narrative that the end days of coal power are here. Late last week Japan surprised many by flagging the closure by 2030 of up to 100 old plants. While the actual announcement was vague on details and left plants under construction and beyond Japan’s shores untouched, it was the first significant indication by the government that a phase-out is up for debate.

As coal phase-outs gather momentum, some coal mines face difficulties getting approved. In the UK, a small mine expansion has been rejected by Durham County Council. Elsewhere, the reputation of coal mining companies and power utilities is under scrutiny. In Australia, Whitehaven Coal is being prosecuted over alleged water theft and Queensland Police is considering whether to launch an investigation into the falsification of coal quality certificates for cargoes dispatched to overseas markets. In India, the government-owned mining and power utility NLC is under growing community and political pressure after a blast at a boiler killed eleven workers, with more hospitalised and in a critical condition.

CoalWire will take a break next week and be back on July 23.

Bob Burton


Coronavirus slams Poland’s already-troubled coal industry

With 6500 of Poland’s 36,000 COVID-19 cases occurring among coal workers and their families, the pandemic is likely to further weaken the country’s already struggling coal sector, writes Vanessa Gera for AP.

New South Wales’ strategy on coal is to press on regardless of the damage done

The recently released New South Wales Government’s statement on coal exploration and mining fails to suggest even the bones of a transition plan, writes Professor Phillip O'Neill from Western Sydney University in the Newcastle Herald.

Japan’s coal power policy falls well short of Paris Agreement goal

Japan’s reported plans to shut a number of coal plants will make little to no difference in emissions in 2030 compared to what is required to meet its Paris Agreement obligations, argues Climate Action Tracker.

China still needs to curb King Coal

President Xi Jinping’s recent statement in support of protecting the environment while visiting the coal-producing province of Shaanxi will need to be backed up with action by the central government rather than relying on provincial authorities, writes Sam Geall in the Financial Times.


Proposed UK coal mine expansion rejected

Durham County Council planning committee has rejected a proposal by Banks Mining to expand its Bradley West mine to produce another 90,000 tonnes of coal. While the council’s planning staff had recommended the expansion be approved, over 6000 objections to the proposal were received. Coal Action Network argues the proposed mine expansion would have been 33 metres from the nearest home while 250 metres had been the standard used in the past. The Banks Group said it would review the decision and consider its options. Banks Group has also proposed an open cut coal mine at Dewley Hill near Newcastle but a planning hearing has yet to be held. (Northern Echo, Coal Action Network)

Top News

Czech coal company suspends all mines for six weeks over COVID-19 outbreak: The Czech Republic’s hard coal mining company, OKD, has suspended mining at three more of its mines for six weeks after 20 per cent of the 3403 employees at the mines tested positive for COVID-19. In late May OKD’s Darkov mine was closed because of an outbreak and it remains shuttered. The mines are in the eastern Silesia region of the Czech Republic and adjoin Polish Silesia where a major COVID-19 outbreak has also been recorded. (Mining Magazine)

Japan flags closure of up to 100 old coal units: Japan’s powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has proposed a policy of closing up to 100 of the country’s 134 existing coal units by 2030. According to January 2020 data from the Global Coal Plant Tracker, Japan’s existing coal plants have a capacity of 46,682 megawatts (MW). In 2018 they generated 32 per cent of the country’s electricity. A further 16 coal units with a combined capacity of 9269 MW are currently under construction and would be unaffected by the proposed policy. Kiko Network, a leading Japanese climate NGO, welcomed the government’s acknowledgement that a transition from coal was needed but said loopholes in the policy could see old units benefit from capacity payments rather than being closed. They also expressed concern that the policy would incentivise the completion of new coal plants which were otherwise at risk of becoming stranded assets. To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, all coal units in OECD countries need to be closed by 2030. (Nikkei Asian Review, Kiko Network, Global Coal Plant Tracker)

German parliament passes legislation setting 2038 coal end date: The German Government’s legislation to phase out coal power by 2038 has passed parliament with support from most of the parties in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government. Opposition parties voted against the phase-out roadmap as failing to meet necessary emission reduction targets. Coal mining regions will have access to a €40 billion (US$45 billion) transition fund. However, the legislation allows continued destruction of villages adjoining lignite mines and allows for up to 134 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the Paris Agreement's 1.5 degree climate target. The Institute for Applied Ecology estimated the compensation on offer for coal plant operators could be €2 billion (US$2.25 billion) more than is required due to the poor prevailing market for coal power. (Deutsche Welle, Clean Energy Wire, Clean Energy Wire)

NSW agency prosecutes Whitehaven Coal over alleged water theft: The New South Wales Government’s Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) is prosecuting Whitehaven Coal in the Land and Environment Court for taking water between 2016 and 2019 without an access licence for its Maules Creek mine. The regulator said the action followed the failure of the company to divert clean water from major streams on the site and instead used the water in its mining operations. The diversion was first flagged by the Lock the Gate Alliance two years ago. After a string of investigations and prosecutions across Whitehaven Coal’s five mines the alliance has written to the NRAR arguing that the company should be deemed not a "fit and proper person" to hold mining titles under the Mining Act. (Guardian, Lock the Gate Alliance, Natural Resources Access Regulator)

Indian coal plant explosion kills 11, injures 12: An explosion at one of the 210 MW coal units at the Thermal Power Station-II run by the government-owned NLC India has killed eleven workers. A further 12 workers were injured with most in a critical condition. The lignite-fired plant has become notorious for its poor safety record with five accidents in the last 18 months. In May this year, five workers were killed and three others injured in a blast at Unit 6 at the plant. (The Hindu, Times of India)

Polish lignite plant tops list as Europe’s worst polluter: The 5420 MW lignite-fired Bełchatow power plant, Europe’s largest coal power plant, has topped the list of the biggest carbon dioxide emitters in the European Union. The plant, which burns about 45 million tonnes of lignite a year and generates about 20 per cent of Poland’s electricity, was estimated by the European Federation for Transport and Environment to have generated 32.74 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019. Of the other top 10 largest emitters in 2019, six were coal plants in Germany which had combined emissions of 93.51 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The 3915 MW Kozienice coal power plant in Poland occupied tenth place on the list. (Warsaw Business Journal, European Federation for Transport and Environment)

Reopening of polluting Turkish coal plants rekindles controversy: Civil society groups have called on the Turkish Ministry of Environment and Urbanism to publicly provide details on what changes were made to the six coal plants that were permitted to re-open on June 8. The plants were closed on January 1 for violating environmental legislation but, after being allowed to restart, residents have posted images to social media of heavy emissions from some of the units. The Right to Clean Air Platform has filed a lawsuit seeking the disclosure of information on any upgrades to the pollution control equipment at the plants in Zonguldak and Maraş provinces. Last year nine other plants were granted “temporary operating certificates” which are valid until January 2021. (Bianet)


India: Solar Energy Corporation of India auction for 2000 MW of new solar capacity results in a historic low price of 2.36 rupees (3 US cents) per kilowatt hour.

Romania: European Commission warns Romania enforcement action will be taken unless two coal plants meet air pollution limits in the European Union Directive on Industrial Emissions within three months.

South Africa: Minerals Council reveals that 263 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the coal sector.

US: Derailment of 13-car coal train results in many wagons toppling into the Black River near Oostburg, Wisconsin.

Vietnam: Government utility EVN opens [Vietnamese] bidding process for the construction of the 1200 MW Quang Trach 1 coal plant.

Zimbabwe: Chinese coal mine manager charged with attempted murder after shooting and injuring two mine workers seeking to be paid in US dollars.

Companies + Markets

Renewables on track to eclipse coal in US power generation: The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates US coal generation in 2020 is likely to provide just 17.6 per cent of power supply, less than half the level of 2010 when it accounted for 44.8 per cent of power supply. It also estimates renewables will account for 20.1 per cent of US generation in 2020, passing coal power for the first time. In the last month the EIA has revised its 2020 coal production estimate down by 28.7 million short tons (26 million tonnes) to 501.3 million short tons (455 million tonnes). The EIA estimates US electricity consumption will decline by 4.3 per cent in 2020 and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by 12.2 per cent. (S & P Global, US Energy Information Administration)

Shifts in coal trade and insurance affecting shipping companies: Over the last five years the tonnage of coal carried by capesize ships has declined with supramax and panamax bulk carriers gaining a larger share of the trade. Capesize carriers are the largest dry cargo ships and can carry up to 200,000 tonnes while supramax and panamax ships carry 50,000–60,000 tonnes and 65,000–80,000 tonnes, respectively. The decline in coal demand, especially in the North Atlantic and European markets, is reducing demand for capesize ships. Nick Ristic from Braemar ACM noted another factor is the “inability to get credit or insure them”. (Splash 24/7)

Glencore subsidiary seeks to extend closure of Colombian mine: Prodeco, a wholly owned subsidiary of Glencore, has requested permission from the Colombian mining regulator ANM to extend the shutdown of its two mines. Prodeco ceased operations at the mines on March 23 as a COVID-19 containment measure. In a letter to employees from Prodeco’s President, Xavier Wagner, said an extension to the shutdown was required due to the decline in global coal prices, uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and community blockades of the Fenoco railway. The railway is used by Prodeco, Drummond and Murray Energy subsidiary CNR to carry coal to the Puerto Nuevo port near Santa Marta. (Argus)

NGO groups fear lack of coal exit will lock Poland out of transition funds: A coalition of 40 Polish NGOs have written to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki urging the government to set a coal phase-out date and to embrace the European Union’s 2050 climate neutrality goal. The NGOs warn that an unmanaged transition driven by market forces will have significant social and economic impacts while Poland will not be able to access finance from the European Commission’s Just Transition Fund without a commitment to a broad transition away from coal. They warn the fund will not support one-off projects or ‘clean coal’ or other fossil fuel projects. (Just Transition)

Coal company ends contract with lab involved in coal sampling scandal: Idemitsu Australia Resources, a coal mining subsidiary of a Japanese energy company, has confirmed it has not renewed a contract with the laboratory services company ALS, which is at the centre of a scandal over falsified results of coal samples. In April ALS revealed that since 2007 between 45 and 50 per cent of coal certificates had been falsified to overstate the calorific value of coal cargoes. In the wake of the revelations two Korean utilities have blacklisted ALS and the NSW Police has referred the matter to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australia’s corporate regulator. Queensland Police are also considering whether to launch an investigation of their own. (Australian Financial Review [paywall])

Indian imports slump by almost one-third: India’s coal imports between April and June 2020 have slumped by 29.7 per cent to 48.84 million tonnes compared to 69.54 million tonnes for the same period of 2019–20. In a bid to cut the volumes of expensive imported coal the government has directed Coal India to replace 100 million tonnes of imported coal with local supplies by March 2021. In late March 2020 the Indian Government instituted a shutdown in an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19. More recently, restrictions have been eased but the spread of the virus is now accelerating with over 20,000 new cases being reported a day. (Economic Times)

Indonesian exporters to slash 50 million tonnes of production: The Indonesian Coal Mining Association (APBI) said member companies have agreed to lower coal production for 2020 to 480 million tonnes due to weak coal prices. In June Indonesia’s benchmark coal price fell to US$52.98 per tonne in June, the lowest price in the last four years. The Minister of Energy had assumed 550 million tonnes of coal production in its projections for government revenue. APBI’s Chairman, Pandu Sjahrir, estimates low prices will continue due to “concerns over a possible second wave of COVID-19” and the potential impact on key markets such as China, Japan, India and South Korea.” (Jakarta Post)

Utah counties pledge US$20 million to push new export terminal: Four Utah counties have written to a Kentucky bankruptcy court in support of the development of a coal port in Oakland California stating they hope to provide US$20 million in support for the project. The port would cater for coal exports from mines in Utah. The Utah Community Impact Fund Board was established with federal mineral royalties with the aim of funding projects to diversify the state’s economy. The four counties have not yet submitted an application to the board for the funding. The Alliance for a Better Utah said the legislature is trying to use funding “to prop up a failed cog in the very industry the money was meant to mitigate in the first place.” (Salt Lake Tribune)


Consultation on responsible corporate climate change lobbying, AP7, BNP Paribas Asset Management and The Church of England Pensions Board, July 2020.

This project aims to develop a global framework for assessing whether corporate lobbying on climate change supports the goals of the Paris Agreement. The consultation will be open until 19th July 2020.