The tale of Adani’s giant power plant reveals how political will in India bends in favour of coal
The story of Adani’s power plant in Godda reveals how Indian officials repeatedly facilitated a project that seemed to make little economic sense, write Gerry Shih, Niha Masih and Anant Gupta in the Washington Post.
Cumbria coal mine: empty promises of carbon capture tech have excused digging up more fossil fuel for decades
The UK Secretary of State responsible for Levelling Up said carbon capture and storage (CCS) could catch the emissions of coal produced from the Whitehaven mine in Cumbria he approved. There’s only one problem: CCS will not cancel out the mine’s emissions because it barely exists, writes Marc Hudson from the University of Sussex in The Conversation.
Dark, dumb and dangerous: inside South Africa’s perfect (electrical) storm
South Africa will have rolling blackouts for at least the next two years as competing political forces struggle to focus on a viable path forward, writes Professor Mark Swilling from Stellenbosch University in the Daily Maverick.
West Virginia weighs winding back safety regulations for miners
On a West Virginia hillside is an unmarked graveyard known as Little Egypt, where dozens of coal miners were buried after a 1912 mine explosion. With the Republican Party’s growing grip on the state parliament, attempts to wind back safety regulations aimed to protect miners have been rekindled, writes Leah Willingham in the Associated Press.
Glencore suspends Queensland coal project: Glencore, the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal, has announced it has suspended work on gaining approval for the proposed Valeria thermal coal mine in Queensland due to “increased global uncertainty.” The company had initially proposed producing up to 20 million tonnes of thermal and metallurgical coal per year with an estimated lifespan of 37 years. The project, which was first proposed in early 2020, is one of 16 coal projects under review by the Federal Minister for Environment, Tanya Plibersek. Lock the Gate, an NGO that campaigned against the project, estimated coal from the mine would have contributed over 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide over the mine’s life. The company had proposed the mine would comprise six open-cut pits extending over 10,000 hectares of land, including clearing forests, critical koala habitat and wetlands. (ABC News, Lock the Gate)
Legal action against German state government over mercury pollution: Environmental Action Germany and ClientEarth have launched legal action against North Rhine-Westphalia over the failure to protect waters in the state from mercury pollution. The groups argue that mercury levels in most fish samples collected in the state are over twice the legal limit, with coal plants some of the worst polluters. A recent briefing from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and ClientEarth found that excessive use of exemptions from the European Union’s Water Framework Directive has resulted in two-thirds of Europe’s rivers and lakes being in poor condition. The EEB report found that of the top 10 emitters of mercury to air, nine are lignite plants in Poland, Germany, Czechia and Bulgaria. Environmental Action Germany estimates that emissions could be reduced by up to 82 per cent through the installation of filtering systems. It estimates this would increase annual operating costs for coal units in North Rhine-Westphalia by a maximum of two per cent. The legal action requests the Higher Administrative Court of North Rhine-Westphalia to require the state government to develop an effective programme of measures to achieve the objectives of the Water Framework Directive. (ClientEarth, European Environment Bureau [Pdf])
Backlash after UK Government approves new Cumbria mine: The UK’s Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, has granted planning approval for West Cumbria Mining’s proposed Whitehaven metallurgical coal mine in Cumbria. The decision follows a planning inquiry at which Friends of the Earth and South Lakes Action on Climate Change opposed the project as incompatible with meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to a 1.5°C increase. Gove said he agreed with the Planning Inspectorate’s conclusion that dismissed the prospect that growth in direct reduced iron production would undercut demand for metallurgical coal. Gove also agreed that the emissions from burning Cumbrian coal “may well be considered neutral or slightly beneficial” compared to other coal sources. The decision has been criticised by environmental groups, the opposition Labour Party and the Greens. Friends of the Earth said they would review the possibility of appealing against the decision. John Kerry, the climate envoy of US President Joe Biden, said he would closely review the decision. (Guardian, UK Government, Friends of the Earth)
Trial over Ohio coal and nuclear plant subsidy scandal set for January: The US Department of Justice has confirmed that the jury selection for the trial of former Ohio Republican House Speaker Larry Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges will take place on January 20. The trial could commence as early as January 23. Householder and Borges have been charged with bribery and a conspiracy related to Ohio House Bill 6 (HB6), which provided US$1.3 billion in subsidies to two coal plants and two nuclear plants. At the heart of the scandal was the payment of over US$60 million by FirstEnergy and other utilities to a group controlled by Householder that funnelled money to a campaign supporting HB6 and political candidates’ campaigns. Other legal skirmishes continue over the scandal with American Electric Power, which has interests in the affected coal plants, seeking to block the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel from being provided copies of subpoenas served on the utility by federal securities regulators. (Energy News Network)
Mongolian protests force disclosure of key coal agreements: In a bid to defuse six days of protests in freezing conditions over allegations that millions of dollars of funds have been embezzled from the sale of coal to China from a state-owned mine, the government will release details of key mining deals. The Cabinet secretariat announced that nine contracts entered into by Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi between 2019 and 2022 would be made public, including agreements for the Tavan Tolgoi-Gashuunsukhait and Tavan Tolgoi-Zuunbayan railroad projects. The protesters have also highlighted allegations of the misappropriation of funds by customs officials. A former MP revealed that he raised the issue of coal theft in parliament in 2018. He detailed that the loss of 379,000 tonnes of coal in 2010–2011 resulted from customs inspectors classing 3758 coal haul trucks “empty” before crossing into China. (BNEIntellinews, The Diplomat)
Indonesian agency summonses Hyundai broker for questioning: Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has summonsed for questioning a former broker for Hyundai Engineering & Construction over allegations of bribes paid to win a US$727 million construction contract for the 924 megawatt (MW) Cirebon-2 coal plant in West Java. Former Cirebon regent Sunjaya Purwadisastra, who was sentenced in 2019 to serve five years in prison for other bribery offences, alleged he had been paid 6.5 billion rupiah (about US$418,000) by Hyundai Engineering & Construction for granting land for the plant. Hyundai denies the allegations. (BusinessKorea)
Australia: A community group has applied for a judicial review of the NSW Independent Planning Commission’s decision to approve a significant expansion of the Mount Pleasant open-cut coal mine.
Chile: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has signed an MOU to test ammonia co-firing at the 758 MW Guacolda coal plant in Huasco province.
Indonesia: Ten miners were killed in a methane explosion at an underground coal mine in West Sumatra province.
US: A proposed agreement between regulators and Bluestone Coke, an Alabama coal company with ties to Republican West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, would result in a US$925,000 fine as part of a Clean Air Act lawsuit settlement.
European negotiators agree on carbon border tax for imported steel: European Union negotiators have reached a provisional agreement on a carbon border adjustment mechanism to ensure imported emissions-intensive products pay a similar carbon price to domestic producers. The aim is to prevent EU producers from being undercut by producers in countries with no or lower carbon emissions prices. The proposed agreement covers iron, steel, cement, aluminium, fertilisers, electricity and hydrogen. From October 2023, importers will only be obliged to meet reporting obligations, with the end date of the transition period yet to be decided. The agreement is subject to ratification by the European Parliament and Council. (Euractiv, European Parliament, Guardian)
Canada unveils guidelines on ending public financing for global fossil fuel projects: The Canadian Government has released guidelines requiring all government agencies to phase out public financial support for most new international fossil fuel projects from January 1, 2023, and to prioritise clean energy projects. The guidelines, which will impact Export Development Canada most, seek to end support for fossil fuel power projects that do not have carbon capture and storage technology. The guidelines allow for exemptions if projects meet 12 conditions. Any project receiving support must align with a pathway consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial temperatures. The policy applies only to thermal coal and not to unabated metallurgical coal or steel industry projects. Oil Change International welcomed the guidelines, stating that “if applied with integrity, it is unlikely that any fossil fuel project would meet these conditions.” (Canadian Government, Oil Change International)
New offer in negotiations over Vietnam’s Just Transition strategy: European Union and British negotiators have increased the amount of funding to Vietnam to US$15 billion to conclude a Just Energy Transition Partnership agreement ahead of an international summit in Brussels on December 14. The latest offer comprises US$7.5 billion in loans from public sector agencies with matching funding from private banks. After negotiations broke down ahead of the recent climate conference in Egypt, a revised draft of Vietnam’s next power plan was circulated, proposing 11 new coal plants and an increase of coal generation from 21,000 MW in 2020 to more than 36,000 MW in 2030. Vietnam had previously been pushing for an increased share of grants rather than loans that would increase the country’s debt. (Reuters)
Call for greater disclosure on Indonesian just transition programs: The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) has called for greater transparency and disclosure of criteria used to select coal plants slated for retirement under the five just transition programs in Indonesia. A report by IEEFA’s Elrika Hamdi notes that some of the nine PLN plants slated for closure in the next five to ten years under the Climate Investment Fund’s US$500 million Accelerating Coal Transition are already old. The report asks why units such as the Suralaya units 1 and 2, each with 400 MW capacity, are included on the list of plants to be funded to close when they will be 40 years old by 2025 and should be retired. PLN has the units scheduled to operate until 2055, when they would be 70 years old. Hamdi criticised the lack of disclosure of the selection criteria for projects funded for closure under just transition programs. “The merit in retiring a plant should be based on its operational efficiency or, more accurately, inefficiency, the level of pollution generated and the overall marginal cost of operation,” she wrote. (Reuters, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis)
Survey finds European banks’ coal policies riddled with loopholes: A study by ShareAction, a UK-based responsible investment NGO, has found that the policies on coal of Europe’s largest 25 banks are weak and scored just over 50 per cent. The survey found that while all banks have restrictions on companies overexposed to coal, all but two have significant loopholes. The report found over three-quarters of the surveyed banks have committed to phasing out support for coal, and two-thirds have policies restricting support for thermal coal. The report found that only 13 banks provided details on their coal financing, but a lack of data made it difficult to assess the progress of the others. The report found that of the 21 banks that set specific sectoral targets, 15 covered oil and gas and power generation. The report assessed only seven banks scoring above 50 per cent for their fossil fuel policies. The French postal bank La Banque Postale was ranked as having the best policy, with UBS ranked as having the worst. (Mining Weekly, ShareAction)
Consortium struggles to meet loan and coal debts for Bangladesh plant: Internal documents reveal the Bangladesh-China Power Company, a joint venture established to build and operate the 1320 MW Payra coal plant, missed the December 8 payment on its loan. The late payment risked triggering a loan default with the Export-Import Bank of China, which would make the joint venture ineligible to obtain a loan for the second 1320 MW stage of the plant. The managing director of the joint venture, Khorshedul Alam, said the late payment was caused by Standard Chartered Bank ending its role with the coal project forcing the company to establish an account with Bangladesh’s state-owned Sonali Bank. However, Sonali Bank said it could not pay the US$114 million due, prompting the consortium to write to the Power Division and Bangladesh Bank requesting the bank provide the funds. The letter also stated the consortium had U$94.84 million with a further US$86.88 million and US$91.67 million for coal import and freight payments due in November and December, respectively. (The Business Standard, Global Energy Monitor)
Contract reveals Bangladesh gouged over Adani power project: A leaked copy of the 25-year power purchase agreement signed by Bangladesh reveals it will cost far more to import electricity from Adani Power’s 1600 MW Godda coal plant in India than the prevailing domestic market price. The contract includes a ‘take or pay’ clause that requires Bangladesh to pay Adani about US$450 million a year in capacity and maintenance charges even if it doesn’t need the power. Since 2015 when the agreement was signed, Bangladesh’s investment in new coal and gas projects has resulted in a 40 per cent surplus of generation capacity over peak demand. The agreement also requires Bangladesh to pay for coal at the prevailing global market price plus shipping and transmission costs. The coal for the project will likely come from Adani’s Carmichael coal project in Queensland. Energy analyst Tim Buckley estimates Bangladesh will buy electricity from Adani’s plant for more than five times the cost of a solar project or one-third more than an existing coal plant in Bangladesh. “It’s an absolute gouge,” Buckley said. (Washington Post)
Vanguard exits climate alliance: Vanguard, the world’s second-largest funds manager after BlackRock, has resigned from the Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. The decision follows increasing US Republican moves to punish companies restricting investments in fossil fuels. In October, the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero abandoned its requirement for members to sign up for the UN’s Race to Zero campaign that required members to “phase out development, financing and facilitation of new unabated fossil fuel assets, including coal”. The Sierra Club said Vanguard had never been serious about aligning its investments with climate goals and that since joining the initiative in March 2021 had only committed to having less than five per cent of its assets under management aligned with net zero goals. Earlier this year, Reclaim Finance revealed that BlackRock and Vanguard have US$60 billion in companies pursuing coal expansion projects. (Financial Times, Sierra Club)
In Debt to the Planet, ShareAction, December 2022. (Pdf)
This 113-page report assesses the climate and biodiversity policies and strategies of Europe’s 25 largest banks with poor performance across the board, even by the banks with better policies in one sector.
Financial Benefits of Repurposing Maharashtra’s Old Coal Plants, Climate Risk Horizons, December 2022. (Pdf)
This 66-page report estimates that retiring some of the oldest coal units in Maharashtra and repurposing the sites for solar, storage and grid stability services would deliver significant savings and reduce the state’s reliance on coal.