August 30, 2018
Issue 433  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Plans for new coal plants continue to be buffeted by legal and political setbacks. In Indonesia a government minister and high-level official in the ruling Golkar Party has resigned after being named as a suspect in a coal plant bribery scandal. In Taiwan, over 480,000 residents signed a petition calling for a referendum on a proposed new coal plant. In the US, a court has ruled that an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting the public from pollution from coal ash dams is too weak, potentially dealing a blow to Trump administration plans to further weaken the regulation.

In India, new data reveal that the number of planned new coal plants dropped by a quarter in just six months. An Indian court has also rejected a bid for the power sector to be exempted from a Reserve Bank of India rule requiring banks to resolve loan defaults. In Vietnam, central government backers of new coal plants have reluctantly conceded that influential local governments oppose all of the proposed projects.

The rapid shift in the economics of renewables is also undermining support for coal plants. In South Africa, a new energy plan has conceded that renewables are now the cheapest source of new generation but seeks to justify two new coal plants for their short-term construction job potential. In the US and Germany, new wind and solar costs keep on falling and are increasingly challenging the viability of already existing coal plants.

Bob Burton


Offshore wind power: the under-explored opportunity to replace coal in Asia

The rollout of offshore wind farms in Asia could replace about 300–350 million tonnes of thermal coal annually, or about 35–40 per cent of the current global seaborne trade, write Tim Buckley and Kashish Shah in Economic Times.

India’s disappearing coal plant boom

India’s pool of coal-fired power projects at the pre-construction stage has shrunk by 25 per cent, or 24,000 megawatts (MW), over the last six months, writes Jayajit Dash in Business Standard.

Graft and government policy align to keep Indonesia burning coal

A far-reaching corruption scandal centred on a proposed power plant in Indonesia has cast a shadow over the country’s risky reliance on coal as a supposedly cheap source of energy, writes Hans Nicholas Jong in Mongabay.


US court directs EPA to toughen coal ash regulation

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has concluded that an Obama administration era Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule on the regulation of coal ash dams was too weak to protect the public and rejected industry claims the standards were too strict. The three-judge panel agreed with environmental groups that the EPA’s 2015 rule did not properly address the pollution risks for unlined and clay-lined ponds and should not have exempted coal ash dams at closed power plants. The court ordered the EPA to revise the rule. In July the EPA further weakened the rule but the court ruling suggests the revision may be unlikely to survive legal challenge. In 2012 the US power industry generated 110 million tons (100 million tonnes) of coal ash waste for disposal. (Utility Dive, Engineering News Record, Earthjustice)

Top News

Indonesian minister resigns over alleged coal bribe scandal: Indonesia’s Social Affairs Minister, Idrus Marham, has resigned after the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named him as a suspect in an investigation into bribes allegedly paid for approval of the proposed 600 MW Riau-1 coal project. In July, Indonesia’s power utility, PLN, suspended consideration of the project after the KPK arrested House of Representatives member Ms Eni Maulani Saragih who allegedly received a US$333,629 bribe from a shareholder of a company involved in the project. Idrus, who was appointed by President Jokowi Widodo as a Minister in January, has also resigned from the Golkar Party’s Central Executive Board. (ChannelNewsAsia, Jakarta Post, CoalSwarm)

Massive petition against new Taiwan coal plant: Over 482,000 people have signed a petition calling for a referendum on the proposed 1200 MW Shenao power station in New Taipei City’s Rueifang District. While the referendum proposal has yet to be agreed to, the petition has well over the 281,745 signatures required. Another referendum petition proposing new air pollution regulations gained 496,444 signatures. The coal plant proposal promoted by the centre-left Democratic Progressive Party has triggered widespread public opposition. If approved, the referenda are likely to be held in conjunction with local government elections on November 24. (Taipei Times)

Vietnam concedes coal plants are opposed by local governments: A Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) official told the Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong at a July 11 meeting that provincial authorities rejected proposed coal projects in their local areas. A senior executive of the Electricity of Vietnam (EVN), the publicly owned utility, confirmed “local authorities all say ‘no’ to thermal power.” In an earlier report on the same meeting the government-owned coal mining company, Vinacomin, confirmed widespread local opposition to new coal plants. Vietnam has 29 coal plants proposed with a further nine currently under construction. (Vietnamnet)

South African court told mine operating without required approvals: A Pietermaritzburg High Court judge has been asked by lawyers for Global Environmental Trust (GET) and a local resident to halt the operation of Tendele Coal Mining’s Somkhele mine near the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal province. GET argues the company does not have any environmental authorisation, lacked approval from the local municipality, lacked a waste management licence and did not have approval to remove traditional graves. Tendele is planning to expand the mine which would require moving several hundred households. The company told the court its mine had been approved in 2007 by the Department of Mineral Resources. The judge said his ruling will take several months. (IOL, IOL, New Frame)

RWE inflames German coal exit commission talks: Tensions flared ahead of the third meeting of Germany’s coal exit commission as RWE, one of Germany’s largest electricity utilities, provocatively announced its intention to clear the remaining section of the Hambach forest for the expansion of the Garzweiler mine. After intense debate at its August 23 meeting the commission decided to take no position on RWE’s planned clearing of the forest. However, the Minister for Environment requested RWE hold off taking further action until the commission has completed its work. The commission is scheduled to present its initial results before the COP24 global climate conference to be held in Poland in December. (Clean Energy Wire, Bloomberg, Euractiv)

Pro-coal lobby topples Australian Prime Minister: The Liberal Party of Australia has deposed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after a rump of pro-coal MPs decided he was insufficiently pro-coal and would not withdraw Australia from the Paris Agreement. The newly elected Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, notably held up a lump of coal in Parliament in February 2017. Morrison’s Chief of Staff, John Kunkel, was deputy CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, the peak coal industry lobby group, for over six years and was for a short period afterwards a lobbyist for the mining company Rio Tinto. Morrison has also has appointed Angus Tayler, an outspoken wind power opponent, as the new Minister of Energy. (RenewEconomy, RenewEconomy)

New Polish coal standards unlikely to cut air pollution: President Andrzej Duda has touted new quality standards for coal used in home heating as a measure aimed at cutting Poland’s extreme air pollution. Coal is used to heat about 40 per cent of Polish houses. However, clean air campaigners argue Poland’s air quality may not improve at or, at best, be only marginally better as a result of the new standards the standards. The standards allow coal ash content of up to 28 per cent and moisture content of up to 24 per cent, are designed to avoid affecting locally produced coal. Poland has 33 of the 50 most polluted municipalities in the European Union with air pollution estimated to contribute to 45,000 premature deaths a year. (Bloomberg Quint, Warsaw Business Journal)

“That [coal ash] waste contains myriad carcinogens and neurotoxins … Power plants generally store it on site in aging piles or pools that are at varying degrees of risk of protracted leakage and catastrophic structural failure,”

stated a US Court of Appeals panel of three judges in a ruling on the EPA’s 2015 coal ash rule.


Australia: Residents protest against illegal 200,000 tonne stockpile owned by subsidiary of Jindal Steel and Power.

Bangladesh: Twelve years after three coal protestors were killed and pver 200 injured, call for charges against community leaders to be dropped.

Canada: Teck Resources persuaded British Columbia regulators to cut fine for breaching permit by C$12,000 (US$9,000).

India: Adani seeks to overturn court order to produce documents in coal over-invoicing case.

India: India's largest steel maker SAIL exits International Coal Ventures, a joint venture company to secure global coal projects.

India: Ravina Raj Kohli, Chief Executive Officer of Channel Nine, alarmed over approval for 1320 MW Khurja Super Thermal Power Project in Uttar Pradesh.

Mexico: Officials from Baja California and Utah sign agreement aimed at catering for coal exports.

Sri Lanka: Alarm over coal ash and dust pollution from 900 MW Lakvijaya plant.

US: Kentucky regulators say mines owned by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice are breaching their environmental responsibilities.

“Ten years ago you didn’t hear anything about energy [thermal] coal. Now it becomes more and more a focus of your meetings [with investors] … Every six months they tell you they can’t invest in you,”

South32’s chief executive Graham Kerr told the Financial Times.

Companies + Markets

Indian court rejects bankruptcy exemption for power sector: The Allahabad High Court has rejected an application by the Independent Power Producers Association of India for the power sector to be exempted from a Reserve Bank of India (RBI) regulation setting August 27 as the deadline for banks to resolve loans on which companies had defaulted. Companies with 34 stressed power plants, which have a combined capacity of 39,000 MW, are in default on US$35.8 billion in loans. The RBI has given banks 15 days to appoint legal counsel for bankruptcy proceedings and finalise any settlements. Eighteen power sector companies have already been referred to the National Company Law Tribunal for resolution of outstanding debts. (Economic Times, Business Standard)

South Africa’s new power plan has big emphasis on renewables: South Africa’s Minister for Energy Jeff Radebe has released a draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) which retains two new coal plants with a combined capacity of 1000 MW to be commissioned by 2023–2024. The draft plan provides for the completion of Eskom’s part-built Kusile and Medupi coal plants and the decommissioning of 12,600 MW of old coal plants by 2030. While Eskom concedes the proposed 306 MW Khanyisa and 557 MW Thabametsi plants are not financially competitive with renewables it seeks to justify them on the grounds they will offset jobs lost from decommissioning old plants and the end of construction of the Kusile and Medupi projects. Both the proposed coal plants have been subject to legal action by environmental groups which have warned an IRP including them is likely to face further legal action. The draft IRP, which suggests 5670 MW of solar and 8100 MW of wind capacity will be built by 2030, is open for public comment for 60 days. (702, Business Day, Greenpeace Africa)

New wind and solar beating existing coal plants in Germany: The climate think tank Sandbag estimates that, after taking into account the recent increase in European Union carbon prices, solar power is now cheaper than gas and coal generation in Germany. Sandbag estimates the cheapest bids from a recent auction of onshore wind capacity at €40 per megawatt hour (MWh) (US$47.74/MWh) and the average solar price at €45.90/MWh (US$53.64/MWh). At these prices they estimate solar and wind are cheaper than existing coal and gas generation. However, average price for onshore wind in the auction was €61.10/MWh (US$71.40/MWh), which is more expensive than coal and gas at current carbon prices. (WindPower Monthly)

US wind power costs keep falling: A report by the US Department of Energy (DOE) estimates the average cost of new wind generation is now just US$20/MWh, an 80 per cent decline since 2009. The DOE attributes the cost decline to higher capacity factors, low interest rates and declining installation costs. While the federal production tax credit (PTC) for wind power is due to be phased out by 2024, ongoing coal plant retirements and declining costs will support new wind farms. DOE estimates that even after the expiry of the PTC, wind power will still be cheaper than new gas plants in 20 states increasing to 28 states by 2027. (Greentech Media, US Department of Energy)

South Korean sulphur standards hit Australian thermal coal exports: Traders have confirmed that South Korea’s limit of 0.4 per cent sulphur content for thermal coal has reduced demand for exports from New South Wales Hunter Valley. South Korea’s bid to cut pollution by requiring low-sulphur coal has increased demand for Indonesian exports. South Korea has traditionally been the third largest customer for Hunter Valley coal which produces the bulk of Australia’s thermal coal exports. Australian coal industry lobby groups have promoted Australian coal as being a higher quality product than other exporters. (Newcastle Herald)

Proposed Polish coal plant could blow billions: An analysis by Carbon Tracker of the proposed 1000 MW Ostroleka C plant estimates that investors  could lose €1.7 billion (US$2 billion) if the proposed European Union ban on capacity payments and other state aid for power plants emitting over than 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour is adopted. The proposal being debated by the EU includes phasing down capacity payments after 2025 and potentially ending them after 2030. In May 2016, Energa SA, one of the two joint venture companies proposing the plant, acknowledged that Ostroleka C would require a capacity payment mechanism to be viable. (Euractiv, CoalSwarm)

Putin urges Russian companies to boost coal exports: President Vladimir Putin has urged Russian companies to expand coal and other energy export infrastructure in order to expand their share of the global markets. “The current business environment allows for Russia to expand its exposure to the global coal market, to strengthen its position and raise its market share,” Putin said. Russia, which currently exports 200 million tonnes of coal a year, is aiming to double coal exports to Asia by 2025. Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Russia was on track to produce over 420 million tonnes of coal in 2018, exceeding the previous peak reached in 1988. (Reuters)

Japanese banks under pressure to implement and tighten coal lending policies: A new report by Market Forces has found that Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Mizuho Financial Group are considering whether to support up to ten new coal projects with a combined capacity of 10,100 MW. Three projects in Vietnam, Botswana and Mongolia would not be eligible for funding if Japanese financial institutions implemented their policies restricting support for new coal power plants. The three banks’ policies are weaker than other Japanese financial institutions including Daiichi Life Insurance, Nippon Life Insurance and Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank. (Bloomberg, Market Forces)


Reaching zero carbon emissions from steel, Energy Transitions Coalition (ETC), August 2018. (Pdf)

This 27-page report outlines possible pathways for decarbonising steel production. Comments to ETC are welcome on this report before August 31, 2018.

Reaching zero emissions from cement, Energy Transitions Coalition (ETC), August 2018. (Pdf)

This 27-page report outlines possible pathways for decarbonising cement production. Comments to ETC are welcome on this report before August 31, 2018.