December 12, 2019
Issue 303  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

In Senegal, the government-owned energy utility has, after five years of strong community opposition, cancelled the operation of the hugely controversial 125 megawatt (MW) Bargny coal plant. Despite legal threats from the German utility Uniper, the Netherlands Senate has passed legislation setting 2030 as the exit date for the country’s remaining coal plant. In the US and Chile, coal plant owners have brought forward previously announced coal plant closure dates. South Korea has also begun the implementation of its plan to shut down some coal plants for the next three months and to cap generation at a raft of others. In India, a new report notes that there is a suite of states that are ideally suited to rely on renewables for all additional generation capacity.

The Philippines Commission on Human Rights finding that major fossil fuel companies, including some coal companies, are liable for climate change damage has been welcomed as a significant development in potentially holding major polluters to account. Some coal companies are finding climate disruption is already hitting their bottom lines, with the Australian mining company Whitehaven Coal lowering production forecast due to smoke, haze and dust from drought conditions. In South Africa, Eskom’s troubles go from bad to worse with over a week of rolling blackouts, in part because of extreme rainfall flooding two coal plants. The failure of many new and old coal units has also contributed to the need for load shedding. In Russia, a major utility is looking to sell its existing coal plants and mines to reduce its emissions profile.

Bob Burton


How a failing power utility is fuelling South Africa’s economic crisis

South Africa’s key ministers are making the financial and operational crisis facing the state power utility Eskom far worse than it should be, writes Mark Swilling, Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development at Stellenbosch University in The Conversation.

How much could a just transition in South Africa cost?

The cost of a bare-bones just transition for South Africa’s coal power sector could cost 6 billion rand (US$405 million), write Michelle Cruywagen, Mark Swilling and Megan Davies in the Daily Maverick.

Chinese coal power in Romania’s rustbelt

Romania is planning to build a new 990 MW coal plant with the support of China Huadian Engineering Company even though the European Union is moving towards a coal-free future, write Ionut Dulamița and Michael Bird.


Netherlands adopts 2030 coal phase-out law

The Netherlands Senate has passed legislation to phase out the country’s 4800 megawatt (MW) of coal capacity by 2030. Coal power currently accounts for about one-quarter of the country’s electricity. The coal phase-out will occur in two stages with Vattenfall’s 630 MW Hemweg 8 coal plant to close by the end of 2019 and RWE’s 643 MW Amer 9 plant due to shut by the end of 2024 at the latest. The country’s three newer plants, which have a combined capacity of 3500 MW, will be closed by the end of 2029. Ahead of the Senate vote, Uniper, which commissioned its 1100 MW Maasvlakte plant in 2016, threatened that it could take legal action over a forced coal shutdown. (Montel)

Senegal axes proposed coal plant

350 Africa has welcomed the December 1 announcement by the CEO of Senelec, the Senegalese Government-owned utility, that the 125 MW Bargny coal-fired plant would be closed as requested by President Macky Sall. The announcement has been welcomed by the local community which has campaigned against the construction of the plant due to its pollution impact on the local fishing community and the use of land allocated for use by residents who had lost homes to coastal erosion. The plant, which was commissioned in November 2018, was financed by the African Development Bank, West African Development Bank and the Netherlands Development Finance Company. Community groups want Senelec to pursue renewable energy and are opposed to the plant being simply converted to run on gas. (, 350 Africa, Global Energy Monitor)

Top News

Philippines human rights agency finds fossil fuel giants liable for damage: The Philippines Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has found that 47 major fossil fuel companies — including coal producers such as Anglo American, Glencore, BHP, Peabody Energy and RWE — could be held liable for damage caused by climate change. In 2016, fourteen environmental and human rights groups requested that CHR investigate the world’s biggest investor-owned fossil fuel and cement companies for violating or threatening the human rights of Filipinos by significantly contributing to climate change and failing to reduce emissions. CHR Commissioner, Roberto Cadiz, told the UN climate conference that the commission’s final report, which has not yet been released, will find that the major fossil fuel companies have a legal responsibility to shift away from fossil fuels and invest in cleaner energy. The CHR findings have been welcomed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia as a “landmark victory for climate justice.” Amnesty International welcomed the announcement as providing “a beacon of hope for the victims of the climate crisis.” (The Independent, Greenpeace, Amnesty International)

South Korea shuts 10 coal units to cut pollution: The South Korean Government has ordered the closure of 10 coal units during the December–February winter heating season when air pollution is at its worst. Last month the government had flagged that it could require 15 units to be closed. As part of its drive to cut air pollution, the government has required a further 41 units to operate at no more than 80 per cent of capacity between December and February. (Reuters)

Report finds three more Indian states plan could go coal-free for new generation: A study by Climate Trends, an Indian think tank, estimates that the states of Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Karnataka — the three states with the best renewables potential — could rely solely on solar and wind for all new generation capacity. The three states account for over half of the debt accumulated by all state-based distribution utilities while Tamil Nadu has the largest proposed addition of new coal capacity of all states. Climate Trends finds that all three states currently or soon will have more renewables capacity than coal generation. The report also finds that Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, North-East States, Jammu & Kashmir, and Kerala are also likely to embrace renewables as they have good renewables potential, face high coal costs and currently have low levels of coal generation. (Business Standard, India Climate Dialogue)

World Health Organization rejects Indian Minister’s claim on pollution: The World Health Organization (WHO) has dismissed claims by India’s Minister for Environment, Prakash Javadekar, that there is “no conclusive” Indian data linking “deaths/diseases exclusively due to air pollution.” Javadekar’s statement was in response to the estimate by the medical journal, The Lancet, that 500,000 Indians died prematurely from air pollution in 2016. WHO’s Climate Lead, Diarmid Campbell-Lendru, said the agency had analysed tens of thousands of studies on air pollution from around the world. “We are yet to find a study which shows any population, including India, which is immune from the health impacts of air pollution,” he said. (Economic Times)

Coal mine in Myanmar begins export project for Thailand: Despite opposition from hundreds of villagers, work has commenced on the construction of a new coal mine in Shan State which is planned to export 300,000 tonnes of coal a year to Thailand. The mine, which was granted a 28 year mining concession in July, is being developed by a joint venture which is 70 per cent owned by a Thai company, Sahakol Equipment. Villagers fear that up to 2500 people could be evicted from nine villages for the mine. A 600 MW coal plant, which would consume over 2 million tonnes of coal a year, has been proposed with power to be exported to Thailand. (Myanmar Times)

Community groups reject East Kalimantan zoning plan which caters for more coal ports: Environmental groups and representative of fishing communities have called for the provincial government of East Kalimantan to scrap a proposed zoning plan which provides for the construction of new coal and gas terminals as well as allocating huge swathes of land for exploitation. The draft plan, referred to as RZWP3K, proposes allowing new coal and other terminals including in the Apar Bay Nature Reserve and Adang Bay Nature Reserve. East Kalimantan contains an estimated 28 per cent of Indonesia’s coal reserves. (Mongabay)

Western Balkans coal plants breach Energy Community pollution limits: A report by CEE Bankwatch Network has found that coal plants in Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia have sulphur dioxide pollution over six times the level agreed with the Energy Community. The report found that pollution from some coal plants in the region has worsened after agreeing to pollution limits with the Energy Community. Bankwatch found that in 2018 the Kostolac B plant in Serbia emitted more sulphur dioxide than allowed by all four countries even though it was the only plant that has installed desulphurisation equipment. (Reuters, CEE Bankwatch Network)

German minister says new coal plant allowed to go online: The Secretary of State for Germany’s Ministry for the Environment, Jochen Flasbarth, said Uniper’s 1100 MW Datteln 4 coal plant will be commissioned despite Germany’s plan to exit all coal by 2038 at the latest. The coal exit commission, which negotiated a compromise among environmental, labor and industry representatives, recommended the plant not be allowed to come online. ( [German])

“There is no place for coal in carbon neutral economies. Whether you’re buying coal, selling it, or financing coal plants at home or beyond your borders, you are part of the problem and need to fast track your transition towards energy sources that do not recklessly spew carbon into our atmosphere,”

said Fiji’s Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, at the United Nations climate conference in Madrid.


Australia: Soul Pattinson, which holds a 50 per cent stake in New Hope Coal, shuts down annual general meeting after just a few climate questions.

Australia: Internal ANZ memo reveals that the bank plans to cut its thermal coal lending by at least A$700 million by 2024, a 75 per cent reduction.

Bosnia: Based on five polluting coal plants, Bosnia is the only electricity exporter in the Balkans.

Cambodia: New 135 MW unit at the Sihanoukville CEL power station is scheduled to be commissioned in December.

Japan: Anonymous government official suggests Abe government has no plans to review its support for new international coal plants.

Mongolia: Russian Railways subsidiary to provide technical advice on the construction of the 414 kilometre coal railway from the Tavan Tolgoi coalfield to the existing rail network.

North Macedonia: In two out of three scenarios in the country’s draft energy strategy, a coal exit date has been set for 2025.

US: Over two dozen people have been arrested blocking a coal shipment to the 459 MW Merrimack Station, New Hampshire’s last coal plant.

US: Richmond City Council delays vote on proposed ban on coal storage at Levin-Richmond Terminal port until January 2020.

Companies + Markets

US utility brings forward closure date for two units: Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL), a subsidiary of AES, has proposed the early closure of two units with 630 MW combined capacity at its 1705 MW Petersburg plant in Indianapolis. IPL is proposing Unit 1 be retired in 2021 and Unit 2 in 2023. The units had previously been expected to operate until 2032 and 2034 respectively, even though they were first commissioned in the late 1960s. However, IPL is proposing that the remaining two units be kept online and under review. The Sierra Club argues that, as one of worst polluting plants in the US, IPL should close the entire plant by 2028. (Utility Dive)

Engie announces early closures of Chilean units: Engie has announced that in 2024 it will close two units at its Mejillones plant. The units have a combined capacity of 334 MW. Engie has also announced it will bring forward the retirement of two units, with a combined capacity of 268 MW, at the Tocopilla plant by January 2022 compared to the previously scheduled date of May 2024. The utility AES will also shut down the 120 MW Unit 1 at the Ventanas plant in 2020 and the 218 MW unit 2 in 2022. Chile’s national coal exit plan, which was announced in June, allowed Engie’s Mejillones units slated for closure to operate until 2040 and AES’s two units at Ventanas plant until 2022 and 2024. In June, Chilean NGOs argued the government had failed to set a 2030 coal exit deadline and that the closure of old plants was unnecessarily being delayed and left in the hands of utilities. Low power prices from renewable energy projects are driving the move away from coal. (Renewables Now)

Chinese and Japanese financial institutions are top coal plant backers: A report by Urgewald and BankTrack estimates that over the past three years the top 10 global financial institutions have provided US$745 billion to companies planning new coal power plants. Since 2017, Japanese banks accounted for 32 per cent of direct lending to companies developing new coal projects. Three companies — Mizuho, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation — top the global list of lenders, with European banks close behind. Chinese banks accounted for 69 per cent of all underwriting since 2017 of companies developing coal plants; the top five underwriters of companies developing coal plants are all Chinese institutions. (Reuters, BankTrack)

Powder River Basin mines struggle for support: A bankruptcy judge has approved Cloud Peak Energy’s Chapter 11 reorganization plan, which includes the sale of the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Wyoming and Spring Creek mine in Montana to Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC). While NTEC agreed to buy the mines and take on some of Cloud Peak’s debts, the Navajo Nation have withdrawn approval to provide financial guarantees for US$400 million in rehabilitation bonds. State and federal officials require NTEC to have financial support for bonds before state mining permits and federal coal leases will be transferred. (Associated Press)

Drought, bushfire smoke hits production at Australian mine: Whitehaven Coal has told investors that it has cut the production forecast at its controversial Maules Creek coal mine by up to 2 million tonnes this financial year to 10–11 million tonnes. The company attributed the reduction in part to “numerous unscheduled production stoppages during November and December from smoke, dust and haze events which are a function of ongoing severe drought conditions.” Bushfire smoke has blanketed large parts of New South Wales. The company has also struggled to retain and recruit staff in the region. (Sydney Morning Herald, Whitehaven Coal)

Russian utility looks to offload coal assets to cut carbon profile: IrkutskEnergo, a subsidiary of the En+Group, is reportedly looking to sell its two coal power plants and six open-cut coal mines for about US$388 million with the company stating the sale is to “minimize carbon dioxide emissions.” The Irkutsk plant has a capacity of 350 MW with the eight units being commissioned between 1959 and 1981, while the two units at the 240 Novo-Ziminskaya plant were commissioned between 1981 and 1983. While the Russian Government is doing little to cut coal generation, IrkutskEnergo’s sale is an indicator of pressure on companies to clean up their power portfolio. The Finnish company Fortum, which is a wholesaler in the Russian market, is looking to swap its fossil fuel plants for hydro generation while Enel Russia, a subsidiary of the Italian company Enel, is looking to sell its 3800 MW Reftinskaya coal plant, the largest coal plant in the country. (Bellona, Platts)

Week of load shedding hits South Africa as coal plants break: For over a week Eskom has instated rolling load shedding as over 12,000 MW of generation capacity, about one-quarter of the capacity, was offline due to unplanned technical faults. At its worst, Eskom announced Stage 6 load shedding, equal to about 6000 MW, in part as a result of problems with the conveyor system for the new Medupi power station. Eskom also said that the Kriel mine and the power station had been flooded while “abnormally high rain” resulted in the flooding of the boiler and turbine hall at the Camden coal plant. While Eskom’s old coal plants have had problems, analysts point out that the new Medupi and Kusile plants have been less reliable than many older plants. (Fin24, Eskom, Fin24)


Winds of Change: No New Coal States of India, Climate Trends, November 2019. (Pdf)

This 12-page report reviews which Indian states are best placed to rely on renewables for new generation capacity.

Coal and Human Rights: Coal imports in Spain: Impacts on Colombia, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa, Greenpeace, December 2019. (Pdf)

This 44-page report investigates the human rights impacts associated with coal imported into Spain.

Strings Attached: How utilities use charitable giving to influence politics and increase investor profits, Energy and Policy Institute, December 2019. (Pdf) (The Executive Summary is here.)

This 64-page report investigates how the charitable contributions by 10 US investor-owned electric utilities have been used to manipulate policies and regulation to suit the sponsor’s interests.