May 31, 2018
Issue 231  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The financial challenges coal companies and utilities face are growing rapidly. The Royal Bank of Scotland has announced a policy ruling out funding for new coal plants or thermal coal mines. The financial analysts at Fitch Ratings note that some new coal projects are finding it hard to get finance, partly in response to the divestment movement. Meanwhile, in Japan the fossil fuel divestment movement is building.

In Poland, a subsidiary of the state-owned coal company JSW SA has agreed to settle a long-running controversy over pollution from coke ovens it owns by shutting the plant in September. In the US, Richmond City Council has adopted a regulation requiring coal export stockpiles and ship loaders to be enclosed.

As the switch to renewables accelerates, power utilities and equipment suppliers are being forced to adjust their business strategies. This week a company comprising two major Japanese power utilities and coal importers has joined a major joint venture aimed at snaring a chunk of the burgeoning market for batteries paired with renewables.

As orders for new coal and gas plants dry up, General Electric (GE) has opted to invest in high-risk projects such as the controversial Lamu plant in Kenya. This week, the arrests of two Save Lamu leaders for peacefully protesting against the project show the reputational risks GE has taken on to gain new equipment sales.

Bob Burton


Could coal lobbying and free speech curbs hamper pivotal UN climate talks?

Human rights and environmental groups are alarmed at the prospect that coal lobbyists will be given free rein at the COP24 meeting in Poland in November to finalise the Paris Agreement while civil society groups face draconian restrictions on protests, writes Ping Manongdo in Eco-Business.

Japan's divestment campaign gains momentum

In Japan, the campaign to divest from banks providing finance for environmentally harmful energy projects is gaining momentum, writes Daniel Hurst in NBC News.

Think the big banks have abandoned coal? Think again

Three years after the top five US banks vowed to cut lending for coal projects, data compiled by the Rainforest Action Network reveals loans to coal companies are on the rise, writes Emily Flitter in the New York Times.


After years of protests, Polish coking plant to finally close

After years of public opposition a subsidiary of the state-owned coal company JSW SA has confirmed the Debiensko coking plant in the Polish town of Czerwionka-Leszczyny will cease operating in September. Following representations by the NGO legal group ClientEarth, the company has undertaken to monitor air pollution levels during the closure of the coke ovens. The ovens are used to convert coal to high-carbon-content coke which is used in steelmaking. (ClientEarth)

Top News

Royal Bank of Scotland announces policy restricting coal loans: On the eve of their annual general meeting the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has announced it will stop providing project-specific finance for new thermal coal mines or coal plants. The company’s new policy also ends general lending to companies which derive over 40 per cent of their revenues from thermal coal or generate over 40 per cent of electricity from coal plants. Previously, the threshold for general lending was set at 65 per cent of revenue or generation. (RBS)

US council votes to require enclosure of coal port stockpile: To reduce coal dust pollution Richmond City Council in California has adopted a regulation requiring coal and petroleum coke stockpiles at the Richmond cargo terminal to be enclosed from 2020. The regulation also requires enclosure of the coal transfer system from the stockpiles to ships. Coal shipments through the port increased from 120,000 tonnes in 2016 to 1.1 million tonnes in 2017. (KQED)

Kenyan police arrest anti-coal protesters: After refusing permission to the Save Lamu group to hold a protest against the proposed 1050 megawatt (MW) Lamu power plant, police arrested two leaders of the group for holding a small street protest. The two, Walid Ahmed and Ishaq Abubakar, were held by police for over three hours and released on bail of 20,000 Kenyan shillings (US$198). The proposed plant near the World Heritage-listed Lamu Old Town is financially backed by several Chinese companies and GE. (Daily Nation, Save Lamu)

Adani strikes deal to fund Australian council staff with compliance responsibilities: Isaac Regional Council has struck an agreement to have Adani pay up to $A1.15 million (US$870,000) to cover the costs of five new council positions to oversee the implementation of agreements and permits for the company’s Carmichael coal project. Transparency International Australia has expressed alarm at the potential conflict of interest. An independent member of the Australian Senate has also been revealed to have failed to declare a potential conflict of interest when voting against resolutions opposing the Adani mine even though he had invested in a corporate bond issued by Adani Abbot Point coal terminal company. (ABC News, ABC News)

Dutch Government appeals climate change ruling: The Dutch Government has launched an appeal against a 2015 ruling by the Hague district court that plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 1990 levels were inadequate and should be at least reduced by 25 per cent. Since the ruling the government has proposed legislation phasing out coal power by 2030. However, it is appealing against the authority of the court to specify the required emissions reduction target. The original challenge to the previous government’s preferred 17 per cent target was brought by the NGO Urgewald and 900 citizens. (Guardian, Climate Home News)

“Many global and regional banks have toughened their stance on lending for coal mining, reflecting concerns about climate change and, in some cases, pressure from environmental groups. Financing for low-grade, greenfield mines, in particular, is becoming more costly and difficult to obtain, while small, inefficient and environmentally non-compliant coal companies are finding it harder to secure loans,”

notes Fitch Ratings in a briefing note on the outlook for coal in the Asian market.


Australia: NSW Minister accepts 13,500 strong petition against Hume Coal proposal mining under Sutton Forest.

Colombia: Gustavo Petro, second-placed contender for June 17 Presidential election, wants a transition away from fossil fuels; his rival backs the oil and mining industries.

Japan: Following the lead of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Environment has switched to 100 per cent renewable electricity supply.

Kenya: MPs speak out against lack of environmental assessment of proposed Mui coal mining.

Nigeria: NGOs urge African Development Bank to stop financing coal projects in Nigeria.

South Korea: New requirement for low-sulphur coal likely to drive switch away from Australian exporters.

US: Two coal barges sank after hitting road and railway bridges in Pennsylvania.

Zimbabwe: Doubts raised about capacity of company that won Presidential support for a coal-to-fuel plant.

Zimbabwe: Global Witness call on UK Serious Fraud Office and Alternative Investment Market to block controversial company’s plan to gain Zimbabwe coal concession.

Companies + Markets

Japanese utility joins venture for battery deployment: JERA, one of the world’s largest coal traders, has joined a joint venture aiming to deploy battery projects associated with existing thermal and renewable power projects in the Asia-Pacific region. JERA, a joint venture between Tokyo Electric Power Company and Chubu Electric Power, is the third largest backer of proposed new coal plants in Japan. JERA is looking at establishing battery projects where viable with its 74,000 MW of thermal and power plants in Japan and the Asia-Pacific and its planned 25,000 MW of renewables projects globally. (Reuters, Australian Financial Review [paywall])

Fall of Turkish lira hits coal buyers: The 18 per cent fall in the value of the Turkish lira since the start of the year, due to concern over President Erdogan’s intervention in setting interest rates, has had a spillover effect on coal buyers. Generators are paid in lira but buy coal in US dollars; the depreciation has significantly undercut their purchasing power for imported coal. One coal trader said that with coal landed in Turkey selling for over US$95 per tonne, buyers are holding off until later in the year when they have to restock for winter and prices may be lower. Turkey has 41,760 MW of proposed coal plants, the world’s third largest tally globally. Many of the plants were originally proposed to be based on imported coal. (Financial Times, Platts)

BHP baulks at secret details of Singapore marketing hub being made public: BHP has agreed to settle a legal action it launched against Queensland Treasurer, Jackie Trad, over A$329 million (US$249 million) in unpaid royalties on coal exported from the state between 2005 and 2012. In 2015 the Queensland Office of State Revenue billed the BHP Mitsubishi joint venture for A$288 million in unpaid royalties plus interest after discovering the royalties had been calculated based on the sale of coal to BHP’s Singapore-based marketing hub not the sale price customers paid for the coal. After the Queensland Government vowed to inform the court of secret details of BHP’s Singapore marketing hub, the company agreed to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. (Brisbane Times, Guardian)

Indian agency contemplates extending life of old plants and tariff reform: India’s Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) has released a consultation paper in which it proposes to reform the structure of tariffs for the 2019–2024 period as an incentive for state distribution utilities to enter into power purchase agreements for currently stranded coal plants. CERC also proposes extending the life of plants over 25 years old rather than forcing their retirement or replacing with more efficient plants. The Central Electricity Authority estimated in March 2016 there was 37,453 MW of plants over 25 years old. The consultation paper will remain open for comments until July 15. (Business Standard, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission)

General Electric’s fossil fuel turbines division fights for survival: GE’s US$35 billion-a-year power division has been hit hard by the decline in demand for coal and gas turbines with orders falling by 41 per cent in the first quarter compared to a 17 per cent fall last year. The closure of old coal and gas units is also undermining demand for services to utilities. In November last year GE announced plans to slash 12,000 jobs and cut US$2.5 billion in costs from its power division. (Reuters)

US hosts “reverse trade mission” for coal plant pollution control gear: The US Trade and Development Agency recently hosted two “reverse trade” missions for representatives from power companies in India, Indonesia, Romania, Turkey, South Africa and Vietnam investigating coal plant pollution control equipment. The missions included US suppliers promoting their equipment to limit emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter as well as tours of power plants which have pollution controls installed. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)


Science based coal phase-out timeline for Japan — Implications for policymakers and investors, Climate Analytics and Japan's Renewable Energy Institute, May 2018. (Pdf) (Executive summary here; Japanese edition here.)

This 46-page report finds Japan’s current and proposed plants would result in greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050 almost three times higher than a path consistent with the Paris Agreement.

“Coining it on Kusile”, Carte Blanche, DStv, May 28, 2018.

A 13-minute video investigating the cost overruns and controversies over the part-built 4800 MW Kusile power plant in South Africa.

“The feasibility of 100% renewable electricity systems: A response to critics”, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, May 16, 2018. (Pdf)

This 13-page journal article by University of New South Wales academics Mark Diesendorf and Ben Elliston critiques many of the arguments advanced by defenders of fossil fuel power and nuclear proponents against a 100 per cent renewable powered grid.

An assessment of new coal plants in South Africa’s electricity future, University of Cape Town’s Energy Research Centre, May 2018. (Pdf)

This 44-page report finds two proposed new private coal plants – Thabametsi and Khanyisa – would cost South Africa an additional 19.68 billion rand (US$2.5 billion dollars) compared to a least-cost energy system.