The coal boom of a decade ago led to a raft of new project proposals but many of the stragglers that weren’t built are now falling over. In the US, the Oakland coal terminal project, the last of the proposed new coal ports on the US West Coast, is facing an uncertain future after a bankruptcy court decision. In Romania, the government has confirmed no new coal plants will be built. In South Africa, Marubeni Corporation – the last of the major companies still promoting the proposed Thabametsi coal plant – has finally abandoned the project. In Kenya, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has ruled out involvement in the proposed Lamu coal plant, a potentially fatal blow to the project. In Poland, a legal challenge by Greenpeace has resulted in the cancellation of the environmental permit for the Imielin Polnoc coal mine.
Elsewhere, opponents of new coal projects face formidable hurdles. In South Africa, the murder of a leading opponent of the proposed expansion of the Tendele coal mine has had a chilling effect on the local community. In Indonesia, some villagers are refusing to sell their land for a new coal plant. In India, residents of Goa are campaigning to prevent the local port being turned into a major coal transportation hub.
While much of the focus in the US has been on the finalisation of the US election, there have been other significant developments as well. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have raided the home of Sam Randazzo, the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, in what is believed to be part of the investigation into the Ohio coal and nuclear bailout scandal. An investigation report by the US Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General found standards used to specify limits to exposure of silica dust in coal mines, believed to be a factor in the increase in black lung disease, were decades out of date.
China’s carbon neutrality pledge should spur green Belt and Road
Other countries shouldn’t settle for dirtier, high-carbon power projects now that China has decided to phase them out domestically, writes Han Chen in China Dialogue.
Coal plant in Indonesia held up as landowners hold out
Landowners have rejected as inadequate a compensation offer by the developers of the proposed 1000 megawatt (MW) Cirebon coal plant, delaying the plant further, writes Basten Gokkon in Mongabay.
Goa protests target Adani
Protests against turning the popular Indian province of Goa into a massive coal transportation hub have targeted Gautam Adani, the founder of the Adani Group, writes Geoff Law in Adani Watch.
Coal mine plan brings death and division to South African town
The proposed expansion of Somkhele anthracite mine has pitted residents against each other, with those against it stunned into silence after the murder of Fikile Ntshangase, writes Nomfundo Xolo in NewFrame.
Romanian Government confirms no more coal plants to be built: Romania’s Minister of Economy and Energy, Virgil Daniel Popescu, has confirmed no more coal plants will be built in the country, indirectly confirming the scrapping of the proposed 600 MW expansion of the Rovinari plant in the Jiu Valley coal region. The Jiu Valley hosts four coal mines, two of which are scheduled to close in 2024, and four coal plants. Faced with the closure of further mines and coal plants, some local leaders are pinning their hopes for the future of the local economy on a green transition funded through the European Union’s Coal Transition Mechanism. (Euronews)
Polish mine permit revoked and company sent back to the drawing board: The General Directorate of Environmental Protection has revoked the environmental permit for Polska Grupa Gornicza's proposed Imielin Polnoc hard coal mine. The decision is a victory for the legal action brought by Greenpeace Poland and supported by local residents. The company had proposed the demolition of about 2500 houses, prompting mass opposition from residents. Critics also argued the mine would pose a serious risk to the regional water supply. As a result of the court decision the company must restart the entire approval process, including the compilation of a new environmental impact statement, if it wants to seek fresh environmental approval for the mine. (Greenpeace Poland [Polish])
Eskom directed to clean up three polluting coal plants: The South African Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries has revealed that in May, Eskom was ordered to rectify breaches of air pollution limits and water pollution standards at its 1600 MW Camden and 3654 MW Tutuka power stations. The agency also issued an enforcement action over excessive particulate matter emissions from the 3708 MW Lethabo plant and expressed concern that its use of unlined coal ash and wastewater dams was contributing to groundwater pollution. The department is investigating excessive air pollution from the Duvha power station and is demanding a specific timetable for the Kendal plant to meet emission limits and rectify poor maintenance of pollution abatement equipment. (Engineering News, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries [Pdf])
FBI seizes records from the home of the Chairman of Ohio’s utility regulator: Federal Bureau of Investigation agents seized boxes of documents and other materials in a search of the home of Sam Randazzo, the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which regulates utilities operating in the state. Randazzo was appointed to the position by Republican Governor Mike DeWine in February 2019, despite the opposition of environmental groups alarmed over his work as a lobbyist and attorney for energy companies. Bankruptcy records filed in late 2018 by First Energy Solutions listed the Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio, a company founded by Randazzo, as one of the professional services company the utility used. Federal prosecutors have charged five people with racketeering charges over legislation that bailed out FirstEnergy plants and gutted the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. (Cincinnati.com, S & P Global)
Report finds US regulator failing to protect mine workers from coal dust: A damning report by the US Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General has found the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has failed to protect US coal mine workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Silica dust exposure is believed to contribute to the recent significant increase in the US of black lung disease among coal mine workers. The report noted there were more than three times as many coal miners diagnosed with black lung disease from 2010 to 2014 compared to the 1995 to 1999 period. The Inspector General’s report found the MSHA knew its silica limit “did not align with current scientific recommended limits” but continued with “essentially the same limit established in the 1960s.” The investigation also found the agency “cannot cite and fine mine operators for excess silica exposures alone” and testing by the agency may be too infrequent to be effective. (89.3 WFPL, US Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General)
Indian Government allows coal switching without environmental review: In response to lobbying by the Association of Power Producers, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests has approved a regulatory change that allows power plants to switch the source of their coal without requiring an amendment to their current environmental permit. Before November 11, utilities were required to seek approval for a change in coal source on the grounds that some coals, such as those with higher sulphur or ash content or required to be transported long distances, would increase pollution. Environmental groups have warned the changes are likely to lead to increased use of coal trucks on roads not designed for heavy loads and increased pollution from plants that have still not installed basic pollution control equipment such as flue gas desulphurisation units. (Hindustan Times)
Australian agency downplays risk of mine to Aboriginal heritage: The New South Wales Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has recommended approval of a proposed expansion of South32’s Dendrobium mine despite opposition by the local Aboriginal Land Council. The area affected by the mine expansion includes 23 axe-grinding groove sites and 34 sandstone shelters with art and/or archaeological deposits. The department described nine of the ten rock shelters at risk of over 100 millimetres of subsidence “as having low scientific significance”. The Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council said it was “inappropriate and offensive” to describe its heritage in purely scientific terms. “This position fails the human test. Aboriginal people are not scientific experiments. Our heritage belongs to us,” the council stated in its submission on the proposed expansion. (Illawarra Mercury)
“To reach carbon neutrality by 2050, I am calling for all countries to stop building new coal power plants and for partners to stop financing them,”
said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a message to the East Asia Summit 2020.
Australia: Australian Super, the country’s largest superannuation fund, has dumped its A$3.6 million (US$2.6 million) stake in Whitehaven Coal and will review $160 million (US$117 million) in other coal companies.
Australia: Glencore cuts contractors at its Hunter Valley Operations mine as coal demand falls.
Colombia: Company unilaterally pushes for arbitration as Cerrejon mine strike exceeds 70 days.
India: Government pushes for another round of coal block auctions in January.
India: In the wake of protests against a coal railway upgrade the national government proposes a study on reducing coal handling through Murmago Port Trust.
Last US West Coast coal port plan on shaky ground: The bid to build a coal port in the city of Oakland in California is on shaky ground after a bankruptcy judge approved a proposal by Autumn Wind Lending to take over a sublease at the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal. The sublease was previously held by Utah-based Insight Terminal Solutions (ITS). In 2015, ITS proposed, with financial support from a Utah government fund, to export up to 10 million tonnes of coal produced by Wolverine Fuels in Utah to the Asian market. After years of community opposition and legal challenges, Autumn Wind Lending, the largest creditor of ITS, said it aims to settle the outstanding legal issues with the city of Oakland. With low coal prices prevailing in the Asian market and declining demand, Autumn Wind Leasing has given no indication it wishes to reopen the push for coal exports. (Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis)
Chinese bank abandons Kenyan coal plant: The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has decided not to finance the proposed 1050 MW Lamu coal plant in Kenya. ICBC had originally indicated a willingness to provide US$1.2 billion of the proposed US$2 billion cost of the plant. The project stirred local and international opposition due to the social and environmental impact on local residents and the World Heritage-listed Old Lamu Town. The proposed plant has been in trouble for some time after a June 2019 court ruling overturning the environmental permit for the plant. In September, General Electric – which had been part of the financing and construction consortium for the project – announced it would not be involved in new coal projects but did not specifically rule out further involvement in the Lamu project. The coordinator of Save Lamu, Khadija Shekuwe, welcomed ICBC’s decision but said “we want the project not just suspended, but cancelled entirely.” (Save Lamu)
Japanese company pulls out of South African coal plant: Marubeni Corporation, a major diversified Japanese company, has announced it will exit from the consortium proposing to build the 630 MW Thabametsi coal plant in South Africa. In October the South Korean utility KEPCO ruled out involvement in further coal plants and subsequently South African Government financial agencies the Public Investment Corporation and the Industrial Development Corporation indicated they would not support the project. Both KEPCO and Marubeni held 50 per cent stakes in the US$2.1 billion coal plant. After Marubeni’s announcement the consortium notified the Department of Energy and Mineral Resources it had withdrawn its application from the Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme. (Reuters, Reuters)
Report reveals coal companies sticking to coal despite Paris Agreement: A survey of 935 major companies operating coal plants, producing coal or providing infrastructure for coal projects has revealed 437 of the companies are planning to expand their activities in the sector. Only 25 of the companies reviewed have set a coal exit deadline. The report by the German NGO Urgewald and its partners includes companies that have over 5000 MW of coal-fired power plant capacity, produce 10 million tonnes of thermal coal a year, or rely on coal for one-fifth of their energy generation or revenue. (Guardian, Urgewald)
Russia pushes for new coal port as another falters: The plan for the establishment of a new Russian coal port at Lavna near Murmansk to the east of Finland is uncertain after the Ministry of Transport terminated the 45 billion ruble contract for the construction of a railway line to the port. The previous contractor had spent 26 billion rubles (US$341 million) on the project when it agreed to terminate the contract. Ministry officials have flagged a new tender will be launched but the upheaval in the global coal market has thrown the project into doubt. Lavna port was proposed in 2014 to cater for 18 million tonnes of coal exports a year. In a separate development, Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development is considering a proposed concession agreement for the establishment of a new cargo port with provision for coal and gas terminals on Sakhalin Island north of Japan. Sakhalin Region Governor Valery Limarenko claimed the construction of the “strategic project” would commence in 2022. (RT, The Barents Observer)
China seeking out alternatives to Australian coal: An unofficial ban on imports of Australian coal has seen Chinese utilities and cement makers seek out cargoes of high-calorific thermal coal from Russia, Colombia and South Africa. Russia has been increasing sales of thermal coal into the Pacific market in recent years but has been constrained by the cost of freighting coal to eastern ports and rail and port capacity limitations. Relatively few Colombian cargoes have been sold into the Asian market due to the two month shipping time and the imposition of 6 per cent import tax imposed on exporters other than those from Australia and members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations. (Argus)
Eskom aims to complete just transition studies on three plants by March 2021: Eskom said it expects completion of social and economic impact studies on the proposed closure of the 1190 MW Grootvlei, 1000 MW Komati and 1400 MW Hendrina power stations in Mpumalanga province by March. Eskom’s head of Just Energy Transition office, Many Rambharos, said the utility is considering options for the repowering or repurposing of the sites as part of a “social compact” with affected workers and communities. “We are committed to a just energy transition, where the ‘just’ and the ‘transition’ are equally important,” she said. (Mining Weekly)
Global Coal Exit List 2020, Urgewald, November 2020. (Registration required for the full list.)
The Global Coal Exit List is a database tailored for use by financial institutions and investors looking to phase out investments in major companies involved in the coal power and mining supply chain.
Virtual Coaltrans Asia 2020, 23–25 November 2020.
This major conference on the coal industry in Asia, with presentations from major coal mining and power industry participants is free this year but requires registration.