April 1, 2021
Issue 363  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Ahead of the US-convened Leaders’ Summit on Climate on April 22 and 23, Japanese officials have indicated Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga may announce an end to funding overseas coal plants. With a Turkish bank and a Danish pension fund announcing tighter restrictions on coal financing, new projects face a far tougher time attracting support. Coal projects are also facing legal hurdles, with a US court ruling a proposed mine expansion in Utah can’t be approved until a government agency has considered its potential climate costs. In Mozambique, an administrative tribunal has directed Vale to disclose details of all its agreements and payments for those affected by its vast Moatize project.

Meanwhile the latest data on global coal generation indicates the rapid growth of renewables pushed coal power down in 2020. However, the rollout of renewables needs to accelerate to outpace coal power’s post-COVID-19 rebound. A new report reveals a dozen provinces have approved a raft of new coal plants in the months after President Xi Jinping’s September announcement that China will aim to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. One of the countries still wedded to building a fleet of new coal plants is Vietnam, with a recent draft power development plan proposing up to 24 more projects. A new report estimates the plants, if built, would lead to about 1500 premature deaths a year and would expose millions of people to mercury pollution.

Bob Burton


When companies go green, the planet doesn’t always win

Offloading polluting coal and gas plants to new owners may green a corporate balance sheet but it doesn’t cut greenhouse gas emissions, writes Catherine Boudreau in Politico.

Plan for coal-powered South African industrial complex sparks outcry

Plans for a vast complex of ferromanganese, steel and cement and other plants with captive coal plants have triggered alarm for residents and environmental groups, writes Kim Harrisberg in Reuters.

A Senegalese village defeated a coal plant but the struggle continues

The Sendou Power Station in Senegal, a polluting project backed by the African Development Bank, operated for only ten years before being shut down, write Leah Feiger and Raksha Vasudevan in Vice.

Top News

Official flags Japan may soften support for coal at US summit: An anonymous Japanese government source has flagged they may end their support for international coal plants at a US-led Leaders’ Summit on Climate on April 22 and 23. According to the report Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, will discuss greater cooperation with the US on decarbonisation at the virtual conference. Shinzo Abe, Suga’s predecessor between 2012 and 2020, strongly backed funding for international coal plants to support exports of heavy equipment manufactured by Japanese power industry suppliers. (Nikkei Asia)

Judge pauses Utah mine expansion and orders climate costs review: US District Judge David Barlow has ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to undertake additional assessment of the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed expansion of Alton Development’s Coal Hollow Mine. Alton Coal was granted an 850 hectare (2100 acres) lease on federal land in 2018 for the expansion of Utah’s only coal mine. Barlow ruled the BLM’s environmental analysis “may not lay out the economic benefits from the proposal without analyzing the socioeconomic costs of GHGs [greenhouse gases] together with climate change” (emphasis in original). The Grand Canyon Trust and a coalition of environmental groups had requested the court to vacate the lease. While the ruling only requires further consideration of the project, environmental groups are hopeful the proposal may still be rejected by the Biden administration. (Salt Lake Tribune)

Mozambique court orders Vale to disclose payments: Mozambique's Administrative Tribunal has rejected an appeal by Brazilian mining company Vale against a lower court order requiring it to disclose the memorandum of understanding it entered into with the government and communities affected by the Moatize coal mine. The Mozambican Bar Association, which initiated the legal action, also successfully argued Vale should disclose the agreements it has with all affected communities, details of the compensation paid to affected people and payments to the government between 2013 and 2019. In late January, Vale was ordered to pay 14 million meticais (US$195,000) to 48 peasants cut off from accessing their fields by a fence Vale had illegally built around its mine. (AllAfrica)

Coal generation dipped in 2020 but rebound may outpace renewables: A review of global electricity generation estimates growth in wind and solar helped push coal power to a record fall of 4 per cent in 2020. However, the report by the energy think tank Ember notes the International Energy Agency’s model estimates coal generation needs to decline by 14 per cent a year to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The report estimates wind and solar generation grew by 15 per cent in 2020 but capacity will need to accelerate as coal generation is increasing in China, India and the US as the economic shock from COVID-19 diminishes. In 2020 coal generation declined in four major OECD countries with a 20 per cent decline in the US, a 13 per cent fall in South Korea and falls of five per cent and one per cent in India and Japan respectively. China’s coal generation now accounts for 53 per cent of global coal generation. (Ember)

Report warns new Vietnamese plants will hit air quality: A report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimates the 30,000 megawatts (MW) of new coal plants proposed in Vietnam’s eighth power development plan would cause 1500 premature deaths a year and cost about US$270 million annually in healthcare and productivity loss. The plan’s proposed 24 coal plants would increase air pollution concentrations, especially in cities including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam’s PM2.5 fine particle air pollution is already at twice the level recommended by the World Health Organization. The report also estimates the proposed plants would emit an estimated 6 tonnes per year of mercury, exposing over 14 million people to potentially dangerous levels. (Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air)

Documents suggest Adani paying company linked to Myanmar military: Internal Yangon Region Investment Commission documents reveal Adani Ports is paying up to $US30 million in land lease payments associated with a proposed container port in Yangon to Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a military-controlled company. Human rights groups say another US$22 million may also be paid to MEC for “land clearance fees”. Last week the US Treasury imposed sanctions on MEC which it stated was headed by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing who led the recent coup. In December 2019 the Trump administration added Hlaing to the list of people blocked from owning property or interests in the US because of their “connection with serious human rights abuses”. (ABC, Australian Centre for International Justice and Justice For Myanmar, US Department of the Treasury)


Australia: Corporate regulator raids [paywall] offices of Terracom over claims of falsified coal quality test results.

Bangladesh: Ship carrying 510 tonnes of coal sinks in Pashur River channel north of Mongla port.

Canada: Atrum Coal suspends further exploration work on Elan mine proposal pending public review of Alberta’s coal policy.

Colombia: Mines Minister confirms coal production fell in 2020 by 40 per cent to 49.5 million tonnes.

Ireland: Several crew members on ship carrying Russian coal to Moneypoint power station have been hospitalised with suspected COVID-19 cases.

UK: Public inquiry into West Cumbria Mining’s proposed Woodhill Colliery to start September 7 with the deadline for public submissions on May 6.

Companies + Markets

Turkish bank rules out coal financing: Turkey's Garanti Bank, which is part-owned by the Spanish bank Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, has ruled out funding any new coal power plants or coal mining projects. Garanti Bank, the country’s fifth largest bank, said it had not financed a new coal project since 2014 and would phase out its existing coal loans by 2040. However, it has not disclosed the amount of loans it has for existing coal projects. (Argus)

Danish pension fund drops Glencore, cuts coal threshold: Danica Pension, the pensions subsidiary of the Danske Bank, has dropped investments in Glencore, a diversified mining and commodities trading company, due to concerns over corruption and use of child labour. Glencore is also the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal. Danica Pension will end investments in most companies that earn more than five per cent of revenue from coal compared to its earlier threshold of 30 per cent. However, the fund said it could invest in companies over the five per cent threshold if they met the conditions of the Transition Pathway Initiative which requires companies to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals and to disclose climate lobbying activities. (IPE.com)

Malaysian energy planner outlines coal reduction to 2040: The 2021 to 2039 generation development plan released by Suruhanjaya Tenega Energy Commission, the Malaysian energy regulator, envisages a modest 4200 MW decline in coal generation by 2039. Renewables are envisaged to cater for the projected demand increase of 0.9 per cent a year. While the plan envisages the retirement of four major coal plants with a combined capacity of 7000 MW, it foreshadows the commissioning of 2800 MW of new coal capacity, with two 700 MW units expected to join Malaysia's coal-fired fleet in 2031 and a further 1.4 GW in 2037. In 2020 Malaysia imported 38 million tonnes of coal. (Argus)

Teck Coal fined C$60 million over Canadian water pollution: Teck Coal, a subsidiary of Teck Resources, has been fined C$60 million (US$48 million) for breaching the Fisheries Act due to excessive emissions of selenium and calcite from its Fording River and Greenhills metallurgical coal mines in British Columbia’s Elk Valley. The company pleaded guilty to two charges arising from pollution emitted in 2012. However, the environmental NGO Wildsight noted Teck had revenue of C$4.5 billion (US$3.6 billion) in 2012 and queried whether the fine would really discourage further pollution. As part of the settlement of the case, Environment Canada agreed not to prosecute the company over pollution offences between 2013 and 2019. (The Narwhal, Teck Resources)

Coal plant subsidies left intact in partial repeal of Ohio legislation: The Ohio legislature has repealed part of the scandal-tainted HB6 bill which required consumers to bail out two nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy but left intact subsidies for two coal plants, one of which is in Indiana. The coal plants are owned by Ohio Valley Electric Corporation, whose owners include Ohio electricity companies. The subsidies to the two plants, which are estimated to cost US$700 million through to 2030, are opposed by the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. One of those voting for the partial repeal of the bill was former speaker, Larry Householder, who is facing federal racketeering charges over a US$61 million campaign for HB6 run by a dark money non-profit group, Generation Now. (Cleveland.com)

Chinese provinces push coal plants after Xi’s carbon neutrality pledge: Greenpeace East Asia has found 12 Chinese provinces or autonomous regions have approved new coal plants with a combined capacity of 8100 MW since President Xi Jinping’s September 2020 announcement that China will peak its carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. The report by Greenpeace East Asia found Chinese provinces approved a total of 46,100 MW of new coal capacity in 2020. Greenpeace note Inner Mongolia’s Development and Reform Commission, which approved 10,680 MW of new coal plant capacity over the second and third quarter of 2020, approved none in the final quarter. (Greenpeace East Asia)

Polish utility pressing government to hive off coal assets: Wojciech Dabrowski, the President of PGE, one of Poland’s largest utilities, expects the Polish Government will decide in the next few weeks on rearranging state-owned companies’ ownership of coal plants. PGE has been pressing the government to split its coal and lignite plants into a separate company to enable access to international finance for its proposed renewables projects. Coal and lignite plants are increasingly unviable as European emissions costs climb and restrictions on financing coal utilities grow. PGE said it expects four plants — Belchatow (5100 MW), Opole (3300 MW), Rybnik (1800 MW) and Turow (1500 MW) — will be moved into a new state-owned entity which will assume the risks and liabilities with the projects. (Argus)


Inertia and System Strength in the National Energy Market: A report prepared for The Australia Institute, Victoria Energy Policy Centre, March 2021 (Pdf) and Volt-face: Changing energy security in the National Electricity Market, Australia Institute, March 2021. (Pdf)

These two reports respectively document the increasing role for renewables and batteries to provide grid stability services in the east coast Australian electricity market, allowing coal and gas plants to retire earlier.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: New coal mines in the Hunter Valley, Australia Institute, March 2021. (Pdf) (Media release here.)

This 22-page report argues proposals for 23 new coal projects in the New South Wales Hunter Valley illustrate the need for a moratorium on new coal projects as not all projects can proceed as global demand changes.