Will the Ukraine war derail the green energy transition?
As Europe scrambles to find alternatives to Russian oil and gas and global energy prices soar, coal could be the short-term winner, write Leslie Hook and Neil Hume in the Financial Times.
Why gender justice matters in the transition away from coal
In the public discussion about phasing out coal, the focus is on the predominantly male miners employed in the industry. At the same time, the impact on women and their role in the transition remains mostly invisible, write Paula Walk and Isabell Braunger in Carbon Brief.
South African coal plant abandoned
The proposed 1300 megawatt (MW) to 3000 MW coal plant in the proposed Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (MMSEZ) in Limpopo province has been scrapped. The company is now favouring the development of solar capacity. Civil society groups were stunned when the proposed plant and associated coking and steel plant were announced after President Ramaphosa visited China’s President Xi Jinping in 2018. China’s announcement last year that it would not support new coal plants raised hopes the coal power plant had been abandoned. At a briefing last week, the CEO of MMSEZ, Lehlogonolo Masoga, said the coal plant part of the project had been dropped, with a Chinese company now proposing a 1000 MW solar project. (News24)
US bans imports of Russian coal and other fossil fuels: US President Joe Biden has signed an executive order that bans the importation of Russian coal and other fossil fuels. The order also bans new US investment in Russia’s energy sector and prohibits Americans from “financing or enabling foreign companies” investing in Russian energy projects. The US Energy Information Administration estimates the US imported 280,000 short tons (254,000 tonnes) of coal from Russia in 2020. (Whitehouse, US Energy Information Administration)
European Commission unveils plan to end Russian fossil fuel imports: The European Commission has released a draft plan to eliminate imports of Russian fossil fuels before 2030 with gas as the initial priority. The draft plan, dubbed REPowerEU, proposes cutting Russian gas, including in power generation, by two-thirds this year by increased energy efficiency measures, accelerating the deployment of renewables, supporting hydrogen production and diversifying gas and other fossil fuel suppliers. Russia currently supplies about 46 per cent of Europe’s coal imports. (Bloomberg, European Commission)
Report finds it is feasible for Germany to end imports of Russian coal: A report by Econtribute, a German economic policy think tank, estimates there is sufficient capacity for other coal exporting countries to cover the volume of coal currently imported from Russia. However, it notes that cutting gas power generation will likely result in increased coal or lignite generation, where spare capacity exists, rather than nuclear plants. The study notes about half of Germany’s hard coal imports are from Russia. (Econtribute [Pdf])
Japanese utility drops out of Bangladesh coal project: Sumitomo, a major Japanese trading house, has announced it will withdraw from the consortium proposing to build the second 12,100 MW phase of the Matarbari coal plant in Bangladesh. In an update to its climate policy, the company ruled out involvement in any new coal power business or construction contract and deleted a qualification about the Matabari project included in its May 2021 policy. Sumitomo, Toshiba and IHI are currently building the 1200 MW first phase of the project, which will be commissioned by mid-2024. Sumitomo’s withdrawal raises doubts about the project’s second phase, which is included in Bangladesh’s current power plan with a commissioning date of December 2028. (Argus, Sumitomo [Pdf])
Incoming Chilean Government looks to accelerate coal phase-out: Chile’s incoming left-wing president, Gabriel Boric, who takes office on March 11, has proposed phasing out the country’s coal plants by 2025. Chile currently has 10 coal plants with a combined capacity of 4941 MW. The previous government adopted a coal exit date of 2040, but utilities started to accelerate the retirement of existing plants, driven by demands by major consumers wanting cheap power from renewables. In June 2021, the lower house of Congress approved a bill setting a coal end-date of 2025, but it has not passed the Senate. (BNAmericas)
Increased coal use drives record greenhouse gas emissions: The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates global greenhouse gas emissions increased by six per cent in 2021 compared to the year before, rebounding to a higher level than before the COVID-19 pandemic. The IEA estimates greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector reached historic highs, exceeding the previous year-on-year increase record set in 2010. The IEA estimates coal burning accounted for over 40 per cent of the growth in 2021 of greenhouse gas emissions. Coal power plants alone accounted for an estimated 10.5 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, 200 million tonnes higher than the previous record set in 2018. The growth in coal generation occurred as electricity demand increased faster than renewables grew due to gas-to-coal switching in response to high gas prices in Europe and the US. (International Energy Agency)
Alberta clears the path for four proposed mines: The Alberta Government has partially backtracked after a massive public backlash against its early 2021 decision to open the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains to coal exploration. In response to over 25,000 public comments to a government-appointed committee, the government recommended the moratorium on new coal exploration and mining projects be extended until the completion of new land use plans, a process expected to take several years. However, the government said four proposed coal mine projects – Grassy Mountain, Tent Mountain, the phase 2 expansion of the Vista mine and Mine 14 – would proceed through the environmental assessment process. The Alberta Wilderness Association welcomed the recognition of the increased First Nations role in the plans for areas under the moratorium but expressed concern about the impacts of the four proposed projects. (GlobalNews, Alberta Wilderness Association [Pdf], Alberta Government)
“Coal is having a dead cat bounce, in my view. We are not in some grand period of time where thermal coal will get better and more investable,”
said Scott Mackin, the managing partner at the US-based Denham Capital.
Australia: The CEO of Queensland’s peak mining industry lobby group suggests coal plants in the state might close within the decade.
Germany: Greenpeace activists painted “no coal, no war” on a ship carrying Russian coal to Hamburg port.
Ireland: Staff push Electricity Supply Board to rule out the further use of Russian coal for Moneypoint power station.
Norway: Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, which has a 0.7 per cent stake in Adani Ports, has put the company on its watch list over its role in building a port terminal in military-ruled Myanmar.
US: Administrative law judge who advised on Ohio HB6 coal and nuclear bailout law has recused himself from four cases involving FirstEnergy, which funded the campaign for the law.
“Loading of Russian coal has almost stopped at the moment because of uncertainty over payments given the sanctions,”
said an anonymous coal market trader.
Coal price soars as buyers seek alternative to Russian cargoes: Coal traders report buyers from countries such as Vietnam, India and Thailand are baulking at buying thermal coal cargoes as the spot price for Indonesian coals have increased by between 28 and 44 per cent. Traders have flagged the risk of defaults on contracts. “The prices of power are fixed or not flexible in relation to the coal market, so it becomes unviable for power producers to buy at the current prices. Either they have to shut down production, or they try and renegotiate,” an Indonesia-based trader said. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, buyers from Japan, South Korea, China and Europe have turned to alternative suppliers in Indonesia, Australia, South Africa and the US. It is estimated that Russia exports about 40 million tonnes a year to each of Europe and China with 10 million tonnes a year to Japan and South Korea. (S & P Global)
Sanctions hit Russian coal exports: Sanctions on banks and restrictions on access to the SWIFT international payments system have hit Russian coal exports. Shipping lines have also imposed a premium for the war risk on Russian coal cargoes, adding cost pressures. With uncertainty hitting global energy markets, the Newcastle thermal coal spot price, a global benchmark for the seaborne thermal coal trade, has soared to over US$400 per tonne. While most thermal coal is sold by short- to medium-term contracts rather than at the spot price, coal importers such as Japan and South Korea will be exposed to higher costs when new contracts are negotiated in the coming months. (Argus, Australian Mining)
India reassesses impacts of Russian crisis: India’s Ministry of Coal is considering the potential impact of no access to Russian thermal coal and alternatives. In 2021 India imported only three million tonnes from Russia but now faces record high prices from alternative suppliers in the seaborne market. India has boosted domestic production to cut imports but has faced increased power demand and transport bottlenecks while coastal plants reliant on expensive imports have dramatically curtailed generation. India has abstained from voting on resolutions in the United Nations condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In July 2021, India’s Ministry of Steel signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Energy of the Russian Federation to develop increased metallurgical coal trade between the two countries. The expansion of Russian exports to India would provide an alternative to Australian suppliers which dominate the global market. (Argus)
Privatisation of Indian coal boosts pressure on Coal India to close mines: India’s Secretary of Coal, A. K. Jain, said the growing role of private coal production will mean state-owned Coal India won’t “have the luxury to drag on loss-making mines and continue with financially inefficient mines.” An anonymous Ministry of Coal official said private companies could be producing 350–400 million tonnes of coal by 2030. Coal India, which produces about 80 per cent of India’s domestic coal, flagged plans in 2021 to close 23 loss-making mines to save five billion rupees (US$64 million). In mid-2021, Coal India said 158 of its mines employed about 43 per cent of its workforce but accounted for only five per cent of total production. Coal India’s workforce in 2021 was about 259,000 people, suggesting around 111,000 employees will likely be affected by mine closures in the next few years. (The Hindu, CNA)
Russian contractor on the Vietnamese power plant caught by sanctions: The Russian turbine manufacturing company, Power Machines (PM), wants to terminate its role as part of the consortium building the 1200 MW Long Phu 1 Thermal Power Plant in Vietnam. PM and Vietnam Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) entered into a US$1.2 billion contract in 2014 to build the plant. Partway through the plant's construction, PM was sanctioned by the US in 2018 over the supply of turbines to Russian-annexed Crimea and moved to terminate the contract. The latest sanctions barring payments through the SWIFT international payments system would prevent the Vietnamese investor from settling payments under the contract even if PM agreed to them. PetroVietnam is now seeking a replacement contractor for the project, which is 78 per cent complete. (Tuoitre [Vietnamese])
Funders warn South Africa funding offer is tied to Eskom coal closures: A US official has confirmed the offer by US, UK, France, Germany and the European Union of US$8.5 billion (130 billion rand) in climate finance is only for the retirement of Eskom coal projects and related measures such as upgrading transmission capacity and just transition measures but not for diversion beyond the energy sector. Eskom has proposed using the funding for closing some coal plants and redeveloping sites as renewable power sites and for the establishment of new gas plant capacity. South Africa’s Ministry of Trade and Industry has proposed that the funding could support other projects such as electric vehicle manufacturing and the production of green hydrogen. South Africa’s Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, has criticised a transition away from coal generation. (MyBroadband)
Analyst says cheaper power for Cambodia if coal plants don’t proceed: Bridget McIntosh from EnergyLab Cambodia, a pro-renewables consultancy, argues Cambodia should develop a contingency plan for alternatives if currently proposed coal plants fail to attract finance. Cambodia has three operating coal plants and another nearing completion. EnergyLab Cambodia says power prices will be lower by 2030 if wind, solar and other technologies are supported as an alternative to the 3100 MW of proposed coal power projects that have not yet gained finance or are at a very early stage of construction. Electricite du Cambodge, the state-owned power utility, estimates coal power is almost double the price of electricity from solar projects (Phnom Penh Post)
PR firm drafted a statement exonerating company before audit completed: A federal court judge was told the public relations firm hired by the Australian coal mining company TerraCom drafted a media release stating executives had been cleared of involvement in falsifying coal quality data well before a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) investigation of the allegations was completed. TerraCom is seeking to block the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), the corporate regulator, from gaining a copy of the PwC audit. ASIC is investigating whether TerraCom pressured laboratories to falsify the results of coal quality tests for coal export customers. In 2020 the global laboratory test company ALS confirmed that about half of all coal export certificates issued by four Australian laboratories between 2007 and 2019 had test results adjusted “without justification”. (Australian Financial Review)
Health impacts of Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station, Maharashtra, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, February 2022. (Pdf) (The media release is here.)
This 24-page report argues that the older two coal units at the 2920 MW Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station in the Indian state of Maharashtra should be shut down and the other five units fitted with flue gas desulphurisation units.