March 14, 2019
Issue 267  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Two new studies have deepened understanding of the breadth of impacts of coal power. One study has found that a switch to clean energy in Europe could more than halve the region’s estimated 800,000 premature deaths from outdoor air pollution. Another study has found that not only does fine particle pollution from coal plants impose a health burden but rainfall patterns over a wide area are affected. In Vietnam, an audit has found numerous pollution violations by the operators of a new Chinese-backed coal plant and poor regulatory oversight. In South Africa, two health experts argue that Eskom has dramatically underestimated the health burden from continued non-compliance with new pollution control standards at their plants. In Australia, the issue of coal ash management has finally got some traction with revelations a major lake on the Central Coast of New South Wales has been badly polluted by leaking dams.

There has been good news too. The Dutch government has announced one coal plant will close four years earlier than previously planned. The Spanish insurance company MAPFRE has announced a partial retreat from coal. In Canada, a government task force has detailed measures sought by affected communities and interest groups for a just transition strategy to ease the impacts of a coal power phase-out. In the US, new data reveals the further decline of coal power and coal production. However, some governments, such as in Wyoming, are seeking to resist coal power’s decline by making it harder for utilities to close loss-making plants.

It has also been yet another week of bad behaviour by the coal industry. Glencore has been outed for its secretive funding of a global pro-coal campaign. In South Africa, a government review has found that a unit in the state intelligence agency spied on civil society groups including Greenpeace.

Bob Burton


Coal’s storm clouds grow over rich Indian forest

While India’s Supreme Court reviews the legality of decisions over one coal block in the biologically rich Hasdeo Arand forests in Chhattisgarh, more projects are being proposed, writes Mayank Aggarwal in Mongabay.


Dutch to close coal plant early

In a bid to comply with a 2018 court ruling that the country’s proposed coal plant closures were insufficient to meet climate targets, the Dutch Government will require the closure of Vattenfall’s 650 megawatt (MW) Hemweg plant in Amsterdam by the end of 2019, four years earlier than previously proposed. In 2015, a regional court ruled in favour of Urgenda Foundation which took legal action on behalf of nearly 900 Dutch citizens seeking deeper emissions cuts than the government was planning. The court order directed the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent below 1990 levels by the end of 2020. The lower court decision was upheld in 2018. As closing the Hemweg plant would only cut emissions by 2 million tonnes compared to the 9 million tonne target, another coal plant is also likely to be closed. However, the government has deferred finalising the details of how it will meet the target until April, after the March 20 general election. (Reuters, Power Technology)

Top News

Study finds ultra-fine particles from coal plants affect rainfall: A 15-year study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has found that ultra-fine particle emissions from coal power plants can to affect local and regional rainfall patterns. The study also found that high concentrations of ultra-fine particles can be carried for hundreds of kilometres in atmospheric layers and can lead to dramatic short-term spikes in particle concentrations at ground level. Emissions from coal power plants “massively influence meteorological processes and may cause extreme weather events, including intensive rain events. By redistributing rainfall events, this can lead to drier than usual conditions in some places and to unusually heavy and persistent strong rainfall elsewhere,” said Professor Jorg Hacker, from Airborne Research Australia. (EurekAlert, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society)

Study argues clean energy could cut Europe’s air pollution death toll by over half: A study published in the European Heart Journal estimates that the premature death toll from outdoor air pollution in the 28 European countries is about 800,000 people a year, with an average reduction in life of two years. The study also concurred with a September 2018 study which estimated that globally about 8.8 million people a year die prematurely due to outdoor air pollution. The study concludes that replacing fossil fuel energy sources with clean, renewable fuels could reduce the mortality rate by 55 per cent. (Guardian,  European Heart Journal)

Glencore outed as secret funder of global pro-coal campaign: Glencore has been revealed as having launched a global pro-coal PR campaign dubbed “Project Caesar” in early 2017 with an annual budget of between £4 million and £7 million (US$5.3–9.2 million) a year. The campaign, which was run by the C|T Group, a PR company founded by Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor, was aimed at undermining environmental activists, influencing supportive politicians and promoting social media messaging via an anonymous Facebook page. One source said a pro-coal Facebook page, Energy in Australia, was linked to the Project Caesar. The page was deleted from Facebook after The Guardian asked Glencore about it. Glencore claimed that Project Caesar had been shut down to coincide with its late February announcement that it would cap global production. (Guardian, Guardian, Guardian)

Government report reveals South African intelligence unit spied on Greenpeace: A government-appointed panel has found that during the reign of President Jacob Zuma, taxpayer funds were used to fund a special operations unit within the State Security Agency to monitor the activities of NGOs such as Greenpeace Africa and the transparency group, Right to Know. The panel recommended the operations of the unit be further investigated by South African law enforcement agencies with a view to disciplinary action and potential criminal prosecutions. In 2013, it was revealed that Eskom had hired a private intelligence company, Swartberg, to spy on Earthlife, groundWork and Greenpeace, which were opposing the utility’s Medupi coal plant. (Daily Maverick, High Level Review Panel Report on the State Security Agency, Greenpeace Africa)

Chinese-backed plant found to be breaching environmental standards: Vietnam’s State Audit Agency has found that the 1200 MW Vinh Tan 1 plant, which was built by Vinacomin, China Southern Power Grid Company and China Power Investment Corp and commissioned in June 2018, has violated environmental laws. Violations include discharging cooling water into the sea without approval from the Environment Ministry, poor monitoring of wastewater, and nitrogen oxide emissions in excess of permit limits. It also found that the plant had limited coal ash storage capacity. The audit also criticised the Binh Thuan provincial government and the ministries of environment, industry and trade for inadequate supervision of the project and lack of proper assessment of environmental impacts. In a separate development, the Central Propaganda Committee of Vietnam’s Communist Party held a seminar on March 5 to canvass the pros and cons of further coal power development in the country. (Tuoi Tre Online [in Vietnamese], DatViet [in Vietnamese])

Data reveals coal ash pollution affecting NSW lake: A report by the Hunter Community Environment Centre has revealed that coal ash pollution from the Eraring and Vales Point power stations has resulted in heavy metal pollution in Lake Macquarie. Sampling in the lake, which is used for recreational fishing, found levels of arsenic, lead, selenium, copper, nickel and zinc above those recommended for marine ecosystems and aluminium, iron, and manganese levels above those recommended for recreational use. A risk assessment by the Office of Environment and Heritage, obtained under freedom of information legislation, found that cadmium concentrations were so high in mud crabs that they were not fit for human consumption. Coal ash from Australia’s 19 power stations accounts for 20 per cent of Australia’s total waste stream. (ABC News, ABC News)

Greenpeace accuses Eskom of fudging health data to delay pollution upgrades: A review of Eskom’s justification for delaying pollution control upgrades on its coal plants has been criticised by Dr Michael Holland and Dr Joseph Spadaro, two health impact and air pollution control experts commissioned by Greenpeace Africa to review the utility’s claims. While Eskom had claimed that the costs of compliance would exceed benefits, the doctors’ review found that the benefits of meeting the minimum emission standards would be five times greater than estimated by the utility. (Engineering News, Holland/Spadero review, Greenpeace Africa)


Australia: Gloucester Resources has lodged an appeal against the Land and Environment Court’s rejection of the proposed Rocky Hill mine on the grounds of social and environmental grounds.

Australia: Environmental law group ClientEarth warns Lloyds of the legal risk of insuring Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine.

India: The National Green Tribunal has ordered the closure of all coal gasifiers used at ceramics plants in Morbi and Wankaner districts in Gujarat to reduce air pollution.

Germany: Uniper demands compensation if the yet-to-be-completed 1100 MW Dattln 4 plant is blocked from being commissioned.

Japan: In a further move away from thermal coal, the trading house Sojitz has sold its 30 per cent stake in PT Bara Alam Utama which operates a mine in South Sumatra in Indonesia.

Thailand: Bank of Thailand awaits completion of investigation into loan to failed coal miner Energy Earth before determining whether former CIMB Thai CEO, Kittiphun Anutarasoti, is fit to be a bank director.

US: Trump’s proposed budget slashes renewable energy budget by 70 per cent and boosts coal and nuclear research.

US: Six environmental groups sue Trump administration to enforce April 1 deadline for coal ash clean-up.

Companies + Markets

US agency predicts further coal decline in 2019: The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) is forecasting that coal’s share of generation will fall to just 23 per cent by 2020, down from a 27 per cent share in 2018. The EIA expects coal’s decline will be driven in part by the growth of wind, solar and gas generation. The agency estimates domestic coal consumption in the power sector will fall from 577 million tonnes in 2018 to 487 million tonnes in 2020, a 16 per cent decline. While US exports were high in 2018, the agency also expects exports to decline from 105 million tonnes in 2018 to 85 million tonnes in 2020 due to falling demand for metallurgical coal and the shift away from coal power in Europe. The EIA estimates US coal production and consumption in 2020 will have fallen by 39.4 per cent and 41.7 per cent respectively from the 2011 peak. (Platts, US Energy Information Administration)

Canadian report recommends just transition measures be legislated: The report of the Canadian Government’s Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities has recommended “strong just-transition provisions” be embedded into legislation to reassure coal-dependent communities of stable measures to ease the coal phase-out. The task force has proposed the establishment of local transition centres to help provide retraining, relocation and support for affected workers and a program to allow older workers to retire without adversely affecting their pension entitlements. The task force also proposed further research on the impact of a coal power phase-out and the establishment of a job bank to help match the skills of coal workers with potential new job opportunities. There are currently 16 coal power plants left in the country which are supplied by nine thermal coal mines. The plants generate about 70 per cent of the country’s electricity sector emissions. However, the Canadian Government aims to phase them out by 2030 unless they are fitted with carbon capture and storage plants. (Globe and Mail)

Spanish insurance company restricts coal lending: The Spanish-headquartered insurance company MAPFRE announced at its annual general meeting that it will no longer underwrite construction of new coal mines or power stations or invest in companies that derive over 30 per cent of their income from coal-produced energy. However, the company avoided making any commitment to cease insuring existing coal projects or coal companies. (Platts, MAPFRE, Unfriend Coal)

US state government makes coal closures harder: Wyoming has passed legislation requiring utilities to make a “good faith” effort to sell old coal plants rather than retiring them and compel any buyers, if found, to buy back power from the plants even if it is more expensive than alternative sources. The bill is particularly aimed at pre-empting the preference for Rocky Mountain Power, a subsidiary of PacificCorp, to retire the two remaining coal units at 448 MW Naughton plant, which could save customers US$175 million. The Powder River Basin Resource Council flagged its concern that the bill could force Wyoming’s remaining plants to be sold to smaller, less financially secure companies that could eventually collapse and leave rehabilitation costs to be carried by the government. (Billings Gazette, Utility Dive)

Greece pursues fast-track privatisation of lignite plants: The Greek Government has announced it aims to fast-track the sale of four operating lignite units at the Meliti and Megalopoli plants owned by the Public Power Corporation (PPC). Expressions of interest from potential bidders are due by March 19. The government has proposed there will be a 20-day period of consultation with potential bidders, with the proposed terms finalised by April 20 and binding offer submitted by May 8. The sale driven by the insistence of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Competition that the plants be sold before Greece can qualify for further aid as part of its financial bailout. PPC chief Manolis Panagiotakis has warned that the forced sale could lead to “zero benefit or even losses for the corporation.” The sale of the plants has been opposed by environmentalists as undercutting the European Union’s commitment to climate action and bosting renewables. (Reuters, Ekathimerini)

India clears path for stressed plants: The Modi Government has approved Coal India supplying an estimated 9617 MW of stranded power plants that have been built but are without a dedicated fuel source because they lack a power purchase agreement. A further 16,000 MW of plants are under construction. The corporate ratings agency ICRA estimates that Coal India will have to increase production by eight per cent over its 2018/19 target of 610 million tonnes. Cabinet also agreed that a government agency would be created to act as a buyer for power generated by stressed power plants and that delayed payments to generators by distribution utilities would attract a surcharge payable to private power generators. The latter measure is seen as benefitting Adani Power, Essar Power, GVK, GMR, and the Jaypee group. The Cabinet also approved central government investment in two new 1320 MW coal plants, one at Buxar in Bihar and another at Khurja in Uttar Pradesh. (Times of India, Business Standard)

Indian coal auctions scrapped: The Government of India has cancelled plans, announced in October 2018, to auction 19 coal blocks to private companies. In one of the two cancelled auctions, 13 coal blocks were open to bids by companies in the iron and steel, cement and aluminium sectors. A further six coking coal blocks were to be offered for sale in another auction for companies in the iron and steel sector. It had initially been proposed that to entice bids from private companies the developers of the mines would be allowed to sell up to 25 per cent of production to the open market at benchmark prices set by Coal India. (BloombergQuint)

South Africa’s draft energy plan flags even more coal: Following further revision by the Department of Energy, a further 750 MW of new coal plants has been added to the draft Integrated Resource Plan 2019 for notional commissioning in 2027. The earlier draft already included 750 MW of new coal power from the Thabametsi and Khanyisa projects which is subject to legal challenges and struggling to win backing from financial institutions. The draft, which has been submitted to the National Economic Development and Labour Council for feedback, is likely to be subject to further revision by Cabinet. However, the plan may not be finalised before the national elections scheduled for May 8. (Daily Maverick)


A Fair and Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, Final Report by the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, Government of Canada, December 2018. (Pdf)

This 52-page report outlines proposals by a government-appointed task force for just transition measures to ease the transition in phasing out coal power plants by 2030.

Boom and Bust in the Waterberg: A history of coal mega projects, groundWork, March 2019. (Pdf)

This 197-page report provides a detailed overview of the history of coal projects in the Waterberg coalfield in Limpopo province which has long been touted as South Africa’s next coal frontier.

Marubeni Update: Continuing Coal-fired Power Risks, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, March 2019. (Pdf)

This 12-page briefing note details the continuing risk faced by Marubeni and its investors from the company’s continued support for proposed coal projects in nine countries.

Out of the Ashes: Water pollution and Lake Macquarie's ageing coal-fired power stations, Hunter Community Environment Centre, March 2019. (Pdf) (Briefing document here and media release here.)

This 124-page report investigates problems with the poor management of coal ash from two coal plants on the Central Coast of New South Wales.