March 25, 2021
Issue 362  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

French utility EDF’s announcement it will close its West Burton A coal plant in late 2022 will leave Britain with just one coal plant remaining, part of the remarkable transition in the UK power generation industry. Europe Beyond Coal notes that with the announcement over half of the European coal fleet has been closed or is scheduled to close by 2030. In China, a think tank headed by the former head of the national grid has suggested the country could see power sector emissions peak by 2025 with a massive rollout of new renewables, efficiency measures and transmission.

Meanwhile, less discussed aspects of coal power generation have gained long overdue attention. A new report documents the magnitude of methane emissions from proposed coal mines. In Indonesia, the government has moved to remove coal ash from its list of hazardous waste. In the US, a deep dive into a utility’s documents reveals the lengths Georgia Power subsidiary went to cut costs in cleaning up its portfolio of coal ash dumps.

Bob Burton


The coal plant next door

Thousands of pages of internal documents show how Georgia Power pushed to avoid billions in coal ash clean-up costs and promoted disinformation to distance itself from patterns of sickness among people who lived near its dams, writes Max Blau for Georgia Health News.

Never mind the mercury: Indonesia says coal ash isn’t hazardous

The Indonesian Government has removed coal ash from its list of hazardous waste despite it being contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic, writes Basten Gokkon in Mongabay.

How Indonesia became the fossil fuel’s final frontier

In the last 20 years Indonesia has been transformed from a bit player in the global coal industry to the world’s largest thermal coal exporter and a major consumer of the fuel, writes Nithin Coca in Mongabay.


And then there was one: another British coal plant to close

French utility EDF has announced its 2000 megawatt (MW) West Burton A coal plant will be decommissioned in September 2022 after capacity contracts expire for two of the 500 MW units. The plant, which was first commissioned in 1966, currently employs about 170 staff. Unions have welcomed the announcement and emphasised their support for a just transition strategy for workers at the plant. After the closure the only coal plant operating in the British grid will be Uniper's 2000 MW Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station. The UK Government has set a deadline for all coal plants to close by October 2025. In 2015 coal plants provided about one-quarter of UK’s electricity but by 2020 this had declined to just 1.6 per cent. (BBC, Business Green, EDF)

Indonesian Supreme Court rejects coal company appeal

Indonesia’s Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by PT Mantimin Coal Mining (MCM) which had been granted a permit for a 5908 hectare concession over the Meratus Mountains in South Kalimantan without doing an environmental assessment. In February 2018 the Indonesian NGO Walhi (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) challenged the decision of the former Minister for Mining, Ignasius Jonan. In October 2019 the Supreme Court ruled the permit should be rescinded, a decision MCM appealed against. In the wake of the latest decision the district government has written to the Ministry of Mines requesting the revocation of MCM’s permit. The district government and NGOs were alarmed that coal mining could displace thousands of people, contaminate water supplies and destroy the rainforest-clad mountains. (Mongabay)

Top News

Half of European coal fleet closed or scheduled to by 2030: According to Europe Beyond Coal, EDF’s announcement of the plan to close the West Burton A plant in the UK in 2022 means half of Europe’s 324 coal plants have been closed are or will be retired by 2030. The coalition said coal generation in Europe peaked in 2012 and has fallen by just over half since 2016. The rapid shift away from coal has been driven by the falling cost of renewables, the adoption of new pollution control standards and rising carbon dioxide emission costs. The 162 remaining ­and proposed coal plants are heavily clustered in a handful of countries, with 70 per cent of the projects in Germany, Poland and Turkey. (Euractiv, Europe Beyond Coal)

Report reveals methane emissions risk from new coal mines: A report by Global Energy Monitor estimates the construction or expansion of 432 proposed new or existing coal mines could release about 13.5 million tons of methane a year, a 30 per cent increase on current emissions from coal operations. As methane in the atmosphere absorbs far more energy than carbon dioxide, it is ranked as a very potent greenhouse gas. The report estimates the proposed new and expanded mines, many in some of the gassiest coal formations, would add between 378 million tonnes and 1.13 billion tonnes of methane over 20-year and 100-year time horizons respectively. The bulk of the mines reviewed, which have a combined capacity of 2.3 billion tonnes a year, are in China, Russia and Australia. (Bloomberg, Global Energy Monitor [Pdf])

Study warns of growth of mines in high-risk zones in Indonesia: A report by the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), an Indonesian NGO, estimates 800 mining concessions – many of them for coal mines – are located in areas prone to earthquakes, landslides and floods. Eleven coal power plants are also in high-risk zones. After major floods in South Kalimantan in January there has been increased scrutiny of land clearance in the headwaters of major catchments. Jatam estimates there are 70 coal mining concessions in major catchments in South Kalimantan as well as 814 abandoned mining pits in the province. (Mongabay)

Study reveals coal ash pollution from Dominican Republic plant: A study of coal ash samples from the Punta Catalina coal plant in the Dominican Republic has found leachates of heavy metals including molybdenum and selenium at levels higher than recommended by the World Health Organization and US Environmental Protection Agency. The 752 MW Punta Catalina plant has been dogged by construction delays and scandals, with the two units finally commissioned in 2020. However, Duke University researchers warned “uncontrolled management and release of the coal ash from Punta Catalina plant to the environment and water resources poses high environmental and human health risks.” Coal for the plant has been supplied by the US mining company, Consol Energy. (Duke University, Global Energy Monitor, Duke University [pdf])

Adani lobbied to scuttle human rights report by university: Associate Professor Shelley Marshall, Director of RMIT’s Business and Human Rights Centre, said Adani’s Australian subsidiary Bravus Mining had contacted the chancellor of RMIT University and requested the scrapping of her study into mining companies’ compliance with international human rights conventions when negotiating with Indigenous Australians. RMIT rejected the company’s request. In her report Marshall recommended that Bravus suspend mining developments and rail construction on the Carmichael coal project until “all Traditional Owners support the project” and give their free, prior and informed consent. She also recommended if the company couldn’t reach agreement with traditional owners, that work on the project should end and a conflict resolution process be entered into by an “appropriate United Nations (UN) (approved) agency”. (SBS, RMIT University [Pdf])

Taiwanese council wants Taipower to scrap four coal units: The Taichung City Government is adamant Taipower must retire four coal units at the Taichung Power Plant when the utility commissions two new gas units by 2025. Taipower has said it wants to keep the coal units as reserve capacity. However, Taipower’s plan requires approval from the city government which has long been a critic of the pollution impacts of the plant. The 10-unit, 5500 MW Taichung Power Plant is one of the world’s largest coal power stations. (Focus Taiwan)

Study estimates 4800 deaths a year from coal plants around Indian capital: A study by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) estimates 4800 deaths a year across the country from the 12 coal plants that operate within a 300 kilometre radius of Delhi, the country’s capital. The study estimates 682 of the annual deaths would occur in the Delhi National Capital Region with 218 of these within the Delhi district alone. Sunil Dahiya from CREA estimates that the installation of pollution control technologies would prevent 62 per cent of the deaths. (Hindustan Times, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air [Pdf])

Court suspends work on South African mine: The Pretoria High Court has granted an injunction preventing Uthaka Energy from undertaking any mining activities in the Mabola Protected Environment until five legal challenges against the company’s mining permits have been finalised.The company’s proposed mine is within the Mabola Protected Environment, an area set aside for the protection of the water catchment. In January 2021, Mpumalanga provincial government revoked the protected area status to allow the proposed mine to proceed. The Center for Environmental Rights has flagged a legal challenge against this decision will also filed in the near future. (Center for Environmental Rights)


Australia: Auditor-General finds company only “partially” met program criteria but was given a A$3.3 million (US$2.5 million) grant for feasibility study on a proposed coal-fired power station.

Australia: South Korean utility KEPCO appeals Independent Planning Commission rejection of its proposed Bylong mine.

France: ArcelorMittal signs a MOU with Air Liquide to produce low-carbon steel at its Dunkirk steel plant.

India: Coal India considers investing in solar wafer production to offset medium-term decline in Indian coal demand.

Japan: Japan International Cooperation Agency confirms it is considering investing in the expansion of the Matarbari coal plant in Bangladesh.

Mongolia: Coal truck movements across the Chinese border have fallen by three-quarters as new COVID-19 restrictions bite.

Slovenia: Draft coal phase-out strategy released with one scenario for end of coal power by 2033.

US: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has launched an investigation of FirstEnergy's lobbying on Ohio’s HB6 bailout bill.

US: Peabody Energy announces President and CEO Glenn Kellow will leave the company by September with a one-year consultancy agreement for up to 20 hours per week at US$85,000 per month.

Companies + Markets

Pimco rules out further Adani bonds: Pacific Investment Management Company (Pimco), a subsidiary of the global financial services company Allianz, has reportedly ruled out further participation in bond offerings for Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone because of its ties to the Adani subsidiary developing the proposed Carmichael coal project. A source said Pimco’s existing holdings in Adani Ports would be retained until maturity and indicated the company did not participate in the January US$500 million bond sale for the company. (Bloomberg)

Chinese executive estimates power sector emissions could peak by 2025: A Chinese think tank headed by the former chairman of State Grid Corporation of China, the world’s largest utility, estimates China’s greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector could peak in 2025. Liu Zhenya, who heads the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization, estimates about half of the US$19 trillion required to reach carbon neutrality would be for renewable generation, with about one-third on transmission infrastructure and the remainder on smart grid technology and efficiency improvements. (Financial Post)

Doubts over repairs at new South African coal plants: There are doubts repair works on Unit 3 at the 4764 MW Medupi plant will be sufficient for it to perform at high capacity. Despite a 10-week shutdown for repairs, data over the last 50 weeks reveals the modifications have only improved the energy availability factor of the unit to 75 per cent instead of the target of 85–90 per cent. The unit continues to have high levels of outages. Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Africa was required to rectify the problems with Unit 3 before replicating the changes on the other five units at Medupi and the six units at the 4800 MW Kusile plant. One analyst estimates the units may never operate at the target performance levels leaving Eskom with ongoing reliability problems which contribute to load shedding. (Daily Maverick)

US bankruptcy court clears bankrupt company to dump clean-up costs: A US federal bankruptcy court has approved a liquidation agreement allowing Blackjewel to jettison rehabilitation liability for over 30 coal mine permits in Kentucky. Under the terms of the agreement, Blackjewel has six months in which it can attempt to sell a further 170 permits for mines in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. If unsuccessful, it can relinquish these titles as well. Environmental groups warned the 2019 collapse of Blackjewel, which was at one time the sixth largest coal company in the US, highlighted the risk of bankrupt companies being able to push mine clean-up and rehabilitation costs onto taxpayers and communities. (Inside Climate News)

Australian and South African coal ports hit by equipment faults and floods: The operation of the only functioning shiploader at Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group’s coal terminal has been suspended after an engineering assessment revealed the mast structure of the equipment is deformed. In November 2020 the other shiploader at the terminal was taken offline due to storm damage, with repairs not expected to be completed until the end of this year. The disruption comes as major flooding has resulted in the suspension of operations on the coal rail network supplying the two terminals at Newcastle, the world’s largest export coal terminal. Operations at South Africa’s sole coal export terminal at Richards Bay are “at risk” of being disrupted, reportedly due to Transnet struggling to obtain spare parts for its fleet of locomotives. (Argus, Reuters, Mining MX)

Witnesses in class action allege Peabody Energy cut corners with safety: Ex-employees and a former Queensland mines inspector allege Peabody Energy had a culture of “cutting corners” before a September 2018 mine fire at the North Goonyella metallurgical coal mine. A class action brought in the US by investors, including the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund and the Oklahoma Firefighters Pension Fund, allege Peabody Energy made “materially false and misleading statements and omissions” in 2018 about the fire at the underground mine. Former staff allege Peabody Energy appointed people to roles they lacked the skills for while a former engineer at the mine said mine workers were “loose with the rules”. (Australian Financial Review [Paywall])


“The political economy of coal in India – Evidence from expert interviews”, Energy for Sustainable Development, April 2021.

This journal article investigates the reasons for India’s reliance on coal power in the power sector and is based on 28 interviews with a broad range of analysts and experts.

Still Burning: Coal, Colonialism & Resistance, Zoom book launch, March 30, 2021, 6–7.45pm CEST/ 5–6.45pm GMT.

The book launch will feature local activists from Colombia and Russia on the impacts of coal mining and a broader critique of alternatives to coal such as green steel and hydrogen.

Banking on Climate Chaos 2021, Rainforest Action Network and others, March 2021. (Data available here).

This 80-page report looks at the world’s 60 largest private sector banks, and finds that together they financed fossil fuels with US$3.8 trillion since the Paris Agreement was adopted. The associated website includes case studies and provides the underlying data for download.