February 17, 2021
Issue 357  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

A recurrent theme proffered by the defenders of coal is that it will be needed for decades to come, implying there is no need for government policies supporting a just transition. This argument is often paired with support for the development of new coal projects with multi-decade lifespans while deriding those advocating a planned transition as unrealistically wanting it to happen “overnight”. Some of the developments over the last week illustrate the problems of these views. Fitch Ratings has warned of the prospect that exporting countries could face credit rating downgrades if they don’t plan for coal’s “rapid and complete loss of market”. In the US, the latest data reveals the dramatic drop in coal jobs during ex-President Trump’s term, without any policies that would provide a buffer for coal communities. In Australia, a senior government adviser has warned of the rapid decline in financial viability of coal plants well before their slated retirement age. The implications for underprepared host communities are clear. As one US commentator noted, coal communities should be told the unvarnished truth of coal’s decline rather than the fantasy that the good old days will return.

At a global scale, China and India are critical players in how much more coal plant capacity is built. In China, a draft policy proposes meeting President Xi Jinping’s pledge to make China “carbon neutral” by 2060 by mandating a significant increase in clean energy purchases by power utilities. In India, a new study estimates coal generation may have already peaked if the country meets its existing renewable energy targets.

Bob Burton


Nine things that haven’t changed since Alberta’s about-face on coal mining policy

Despite the recent coal policy announcement by the Alberta Government the door remains open for many new coal projects in the province, writes Sharon J. Riley in The Narwhal.

‘Green steel’: the race to clean up one of the world’s dirtiest industries

Increasing pressure to decarbonise heavy industry sectors has spurred some major companies to invest in pathways to cut coal from steel production, writes Michael Pooler in the Financial Times.

China wants to be carbon neutral by 2060, but can its provinces manage it?

Some Chinese provincial authorities have taken steps towards the government’s goals, while others’ – especially in coal regions – have lagged behind or set vague targets, writes Echo Xie in the South China Morning Post.


Turkish plant cancelled

After a six-year campaign by a coalition of NGO groups, the Environmental Impact Assessment  process for the proposed 1200 MW Kahramanmaras Anadolu power station in Turkey’s Elbistan region has been cancelled by the Ministry of Environment. The original environmental assessment for the project was withdrawn by Anadolu Enerji in 2015, due to opposition from the local community. In late 2017 the company resubmitted a new assessment but this too was found to be inadequate by the state water agency because of the plant’s impact on irrigated agriculture. The assessment process was restarted in June 2019 but the company has now abandoned the project. (Bianet)

Top News

Draft Chinese policy pitches mandating big jump in renewables purchases: A draft National Energy Administration policy proposes that Chinese power companies should be required to increase purchases of clean energy generation from 28.2 per cent in 2020 to 40 per cent by 2030. The draft policy proposes that purchase of non-hydro renewables, largely wind and solar, would increase from 10.8 per cent in 2020 to 25.9 per cent by 2030 as part of a plan to realise President Xi Jinping’s pledge to make China “carbon neutral” by 2060. According to the latest Global Energy Monitor data, China built 38,400 megawatts (MW) of new coal-fired power capacity in 2020 and has up to 247,000 MW of new coal power projects in various stages of development. (Reuters)

Study estimates Indian coal power could stall if renewable targets met: A new report by Ember, a climate think tank, estimates Indian coal power generation could stagnate or even fall from the current level between now and 2030. The group estimated that even if electricity demand is increasing at between four and five per cent a year, coal generation could decline if the Indian Government achieves its wind and solar generation targets. In 2020 India generated 118 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity from wind and solar generation, well short of its 2021–22 target of 274 TWh from 175,000 MW of capacity. The official target for 2029–30 is for 793 TWh from 450 GW of renewables capacity. The report estimates it is possible India’s on-grid coal capacity could peak within five years assuming old coal plants slated for retirement close and no new capacity is built beyond those plants already under construction. (Ember)

South African province revokes protected area to help coal project: Mpumalanga province has excised 27,503 hectares of land from the Mabola Protected Environment in Mpumalanga in a bid to allow Atha-Africa Ventures’ proposed Yzermyn coal mine to proceed. The project has suffered a string of legal defeats at the hands of a coalition of eight NGO groups. The groups have condemned the decision of the Mpumalanga provincial government. The Mabola Protected Environment was set aside in 2014 to preserve the biodiversity values of the areas and as a part of the water supply catchment for the provinces of Gauteng along with towns and agricultural regions in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State. The fate of the mine still hangs on the result of five applications before the High Court to set aside various licences. (Center for Environmental Rights)

Ohio Governor’s adviser queried about FirstEnergy scandal: Dan McCarthy, a senior aide to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, is facing calls for a public explanation of his role in the Ohio bailout scandal after Generation Now, a dark money group, pled guilty to accepting US$60 million from the utility FirstEnergy and associated groups. The funding was used to campaign for legislation to bail out two of FirstEnergy nuclear plants along with two coal plants. McCarthy founded a group called Partners for Progress which received US$5 million from FirstEnergy in the week after it was founded in early 2017. Partners for Progress, which was described in the US Department of Justice affidavit as “Energy Pass-Through”, proceeded to forward US$1.2 million of the funds from FirstEnergy through to Generation Now. McCarthy resigned as President of Partners for Progress in early 2019 and was appointed as legislative affairs director for the DeWine administration where he lobbied for the legislation to bail out FirstEnergy’s plants. (Ohio Capitol Journal)

Scientist warns of risk of selenium pollution from new Alberta mines: A former US government scientist, Dennis Lemly, has warned the development of new coal mines in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains “will absolutely produce an environmental disaster for fish and wildlife health in what are now pristine, high-quality watersheds.” In a report on the Grassy Mountain coal mine proposed by Benga Mining, a subsidiary of the Australia-based Riversdale Resources, Lemly criticised the company’s claim that selenium leachate would be treated in wastewater pits. “Effective treatment doesn't exist,” he said, and noted that tailings dams are notorious for breaching. (CBC)

Study finds 294 coal dumps in Wales classed as “high risk”: A joint investigation by the Welsh and UK governments has found 294 of the over 2000 coal waste dumps in Wales are categorised as “high risk” and could endanger life or property. The investigation found that current legislation on the waste dumps, many of which are on private land, is inadequate. Welsh politicians insist local councils, many of which are in poor communities, can’t afford to carry the costs of cleaning up the high-risk dumps. They want the UK Government to cover the estimated £500 million (US$694 million) cost of rehabilitation, regular inspections and maintenance of the dumps. So far the UK Government has committed only £31 million (US$43 million) to the rehabilitation of the sites. The study to map the sites was launched after a 60,000 tonne landslide in February 2020 from a dump resulted in residents being temporarily evacuated from Tylorstown in Wales. (BBC)

“Have you ever seen an environmentally clean coal mine? I haven't in my investigations with Canada, the US and other countries around the world for the past 45 years,”

said Dennis Lemly, a retired US government scientist.


Australia: Wollongong Coal, a subsidiary of Indian company Jindal Steel and Power, gave a A$665 (US$517) pen to NSW Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

Australia: NSW Deputy Premier vows to try and overturn Independent Planning Commission decision to reject expansion of South32’s Dendrobium mine due to risks to water supply.

Colombia: Blockade shuts down coal exports from Cerrejon mine.

Indonesia: After COVID-19 delay, work has resumed on the 400 MW expansion of the Nagan Raya power station in Aceh province.

South Korea: Power generation fell by 1.9 per cent in 2020, on top of the 1.5 per cent decline in 2019.

UK: Travellers Insurance, a part of the Lloyds of London syndicate, has ruled out insuring Adani’s Carmichael coal project.

US: Former coal plant site in Hammond, Indiana to become the site for a solar-powered data center.

US: North Dakota bill proposes to cut lignite taxes by US$35.5 million by 2022–23 to increase coal generation’s competitiveness with renewables.

US: Lighthouse Resources paid 11 company insiders US$3.3 million in the year before filing for bankruptcy but now wants to axe contributions to a coal miners pension fund.

“I think the worst possible thing we could do is lie to our communities and tell them that the coal industry can come back to what it was because all the data is clear that it can't and it won't. The reality is, even when coal boomed in our communities, it still really struggled with poverty. What we need to do is build a whole new economy that works for everybody,”

said Brandon Dennison, founder and CEO of West Virginia-based Coalfield Development.

Companies + Markets

Belgian bank tightens coal policy: KBC, the second-largest commercial bank in Belgium, will further tighten its coal policy from April 1, 2021 to require all companies to submit a transition plan outlining how they “will have exited coal fully by 2030”. Large clients will be required to submit the plan in 2022 while smaller clients may be granted more time to file it in 2023. Companies will not be able to expand or replace existing coal capacity. The bank also announced it will introduce new restrictions on companies that supply utilities with coal plants and thermal coal producers. The bank also said it will no longer finance or insure specific transactions such as cooling towers, conveyor belts, technical systems and extraction equipment. (KBC)

Fitch Ratings warns stranded assets could hit countries’ credit ratings: Fitch Ratings, a financial consultancy, has warned the cost of “stranded assets” caused by falling fossil fuel demand could have a significant effect on the sovereign credit ratings of exporting nations. Fitch Ratings warns “coal will face a more rapid and complete loss of market” ahead of other fossil fuels with the risk “major exporters will face a loss of GDP, government revenue and export receipts in the absence of offsetting trends, such as economic diversification.” The ratings agency cautioned global oversupply will push prices down “potentially compounding the loss of revenue from lower volumes” with countries that don’t diversify their economy at risk of “political instability and rising financing costs”. (Reuters, Fitch Ratings)

Cold snaps and earthquakes hit coal plants in Germany, Japan and US: A cold snap in Germany resulted in German power utilities cutting 1905 MW of hard coal and lignite generation. Steag cut 1560 MW of generation capacity at its Duisburg-Walsum, Bergkamen and Volklingen-Fenne plants. A spokesperson said temperatures of up to –20 Celsius caused problems with the operation of the plants. In Japan, an earthquake on February 13 shut down about 7000 MW of coal- and gas-fired capacity in north-eastern Japan, triggering blackouts that affected an estimated 950,000 households. In Texas, a massive cold snap resulted in an estimated 30,000 MW of coal and gas plants shutting down, and wind generation also affected. (Montel [part paywall], Platts, Reuters, AP)

Australian gov't adviser warns coal plants will close earlier than expected: Kerry Schott, the chair of the Energy Security Board, an advisory body for Australian state and federal government energy ministers, has warned Australia’s aging coal fleet may close “four or five years earlier” or even sooner than estimated in its fastest transition scenario. Australian solar and wind capacity has been growing rapidly. “It makes it very difficult for companies that own these plants to justify maintaining them and it also makes it difficult for them to justify keeping them running,” Scott said. Last week, Australia’s largest coal generator, AGL, warned that with wholesale power prices at six-year lows, black coal power generators were “struggling to cover cash costs”. (Australian Financial Review [Paywall])

Data reveals coal jobs and production collapsed under Trump: US coal industry jobs and production declined by 25.2 per cent and 34 per cent respectively between the fourth quarter of 2016 and the fourth quarter of 2020, revealing the collapse of the coal industry despite the pro-coal polices of former President Trump. The latest data reveals a 70 per cent drop in coal jobs in the top 25 coal counties between the end of 2012 and 2020. On February 1 President Biden published an executive order creating a group directed to revitalise coal and power plant communities. The Just Transition Fund and a coalition of coalfield groups have called on Biden to boost federal investment in supporting the economic diversification of coal communities. (S & P Global)

BHP warns of declining quality for metallurgical coal: BHP, the world’s largest metallurgical coal exporter, reported the seaborne coal market declined to 284 million tonnes in 2020 with the top five importers – China, India, Japan, Europe and South Korea – accounting for 83 per cent of imports. Exports from Australia fell in the latter half of the year due to the Chinese ban while shipments from Canada, US, Mongolia, Russia and Mozambique also declined. BHP notes that most “committed and prospective new metallurgical coal supply is expected to be mid quality or lower, while customer intelligence implies that some mature assets are drifting down the quality spectrum as they age.” (BHP)

India offers more coal blocks for auction: India’s Ministry of Coal is planning to offer up to 75 coal blocks for auction in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh later this year. The ministry estimates 45 of the 75 blocks up for auction could produce about 205 million tonnes a year. Data is not available on the remainder of the areas. The ministry is proposing mines overlapping with wildlife reserves and forests will only be excluded if the mine accounts for over 40 per cent of the area. Last year some of the 38 mines proposed for sale were dropped from the auction process after legal action by some state governments and protests by villagers and NGO groups. In December 2020, 38 mines were put up for auction but only 19 sales were completed. (Financial Express, Argus)


Coal Impacts Index, Australia Beyond Coal, February 2021.

The Coal Impacts Index is a web platform that has compiled a list of over 1200 breaches, pollution reports and other incidents at the coal burning power stations on Australia’s eastern seaboard.