Don’t let China’s ‘coal boom’ enable backsliding on climate pledges
The Chinese Government continues to grant permits for new coal power projects, and coal production hit record levels this year. But the financial reality for the power sector is less rosy, with around 80 per cent of state-owned coal power producers losing money in 2021, writes Byford Tsang from E3G in the South China Morning Post.
What is an “energy community”?
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which the US Congress recently adopted, offers tax credits to clean energy projects that are sited within an “energy community.” But how does the IRA define energy communities? And are these communities indeed most vulnerable in the transition to clean energy, ask Daniel Raimi and Sophie Pesek in Resources.
As South Africa teeters on the brink of full-blown energy disaster, it’s vital the right decisions are made – now
South Africa needs to learn from earlier policy mistakes and rapidly expand new renewables capacity to cut load shedding. This will allow Eskom to repair the coal plants required in the medium term and to close the worst-performing units, writes Mark Swilling from the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at Stellenbosch University in Daily Maverick.
They cleaned the US’s largest coal ash spill; many have died waiting for compensation
Almost 14 years after the Kingston coal ash disaster, workers are still struggling to gain compensation for health impacts from the clean-up, writes Lily Jamali in Marketplace.
Many overseas Chinese coal projects have yet to be cancelled: A report estimates that since President Xi Jinping promised China would stop building overseas coal power plants one year ago, many projects remain uncancelled. The report compiled by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air and People of Asia for Climate Solutions finds that 14 Chinese-backed plants with a combined capacity of 7600 megawatts (MW) have been completed in the last year. A further 27 projects with a combined capacity of 23,000 MW, the bulk of which are in Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Vietnam, are nearing completion. The report argues that 33 projects with a combined capacity of 36,000 MW that have not yet secured permits or finance should be cancelled. A further 16 plants with a combined capacity of 17,000 MW have permits and finance but could either be converted to renewables or reconsidered for cancellation. The report identified four projects that entered into contracts after Xi announced the ban, suggesting they violated it. (Bloomberg, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air)
Adani and two other utilities outed over fly ash dumping: A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has criticised the Gujarat Pollution Control Board for failing to take stringent action against Torrent Power, Adani Power and Tata Power over the utilities dumping fly ash from coal plants without permission from the board between 2014 and 2019. The audit report stated the three utilities in Gujurat had dumped the fly ash, which is contaminated with toxic and heavy metals, in low-lying areas, city areas and riverbanks. The report stated Adani’s 4800 MW Mundra plant had dumped 1.5 million tonnes of fly ash in low-lying areas over five years to 2019. Adani had reported that it had complied with the regulation requiring 100 per cent reuse of fly ash by industry, such as in building products. The audit also noted that the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had directed Adani in March 2016 to instal an online monitoring system at the plant and fly ash disposal locations to capture and report data. CAG said its inspection of the Mundra site in December 2021 revealed that Adani had not installed a monitoring system. (Indian Express, Comptroller and Auditor General of India)
Arrests as clearing for new coal mine begins in Hasdeo Aranya forest: Ten people have been arrested as forest clearing commenced for the expansion of the Parsa East Kente Basen coal mine. The mine is one of three allocated to Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd (RRVUNL), a power utility owned by the government of Rajasthan. Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, an NGO, has objected to mining projects encroaching on the 170,000 hectares of forest. Just before the tree-felling commenced, Chhattisgarh’s Minister of Health, T.S. Singh Deo, said Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel ruled out coal mining at the Parsa and Kete Extension in the Hasdeo Aranya forest coal blocks recently allocated to RRVUNL. Villagers opposed to the mining projects called on the Chief Minister to issue a written order blocking them from proceeding. Earlier this year, the Chhattisgarh Government issued final environmental approvals for the two projects, along with the Parsa East Kente Basen Phase II coal mine. Deo said the government supports the PEKB Phase II mine proceeding. (New Indian Express, The Hindu)
Opposition to US permitting deal forces Manchin to backtrack: A coalition of US environmental groups is celebrating the withdrawal of significant regulatory changes proposed by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Democratic leaders as part of a budget bill. The proposed changes would have weakened the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, largely exempted the controversial Mountain Valley Gas pipeline in West Virginia from legal review and expedited approval for new transmission lines. Environmental groups said proposed changes to the Clean Water Act would have weakened the role of First Nations and state governments in federal permitting decisions. The deal also proposed a two-year limit on environmental reviews of major projects. It would have required Biden to designate at least 25 energy projects of strategic national importance for federal review within 90 days of passage. Manchin has signalled he intends to try and advance the changes later in the year. (Guardian, Bill McKibben)
Alberta sued by Australian coal mining company over policy changes: An Australian coal mining company, Atrum Coal, has launched a C$3.5 billion (US$2.6 billion) claim for damages against the Alberta Government over policy changes affecting the proposed Elan metallurgical coal project. In May 2020, the Alberta Government abandoned a 1976 policy restricting coal developments on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Following a public backlash, the government reversed course, reinstating most of the critical elements of the 1976 policy. It also announced a ban on mountaintop coal mining in February 2020. Earlier this year, the government also imposed a moratorium on coal exploration in some areas, including the Elan coal leases. (CBC)
Australian Government faces decisions on a dozen new coal projects: Move Beyond Coal, a climate NGO, has revealed the recently elected Australian Government faces decisions on 29 coal mines, of which 13 are new projects and 16 are expansions of existing mines. The new Minister for Environment, Tanya Plibersek, also faces decisions on applications to protect Aboriginal Cultural Heritage sites from coal mining and, in Adani’s proposed North Galilee Water Scheme, to pipe 12.5 billion litres of water a year for the company’s Carmichael coal mine. The Labor Government was elected in May 2022. On election night, Prime Minister-elect Anthony Albanese declared, “together, we can end the climate wars.” Move Beyond Coal estimates that the total emissions from burning the coal in the 29 proposed coal projects could amount to 17 billion tons of carbon dioxide, about 35 times Australia’s annual emissions. (Bloomberg, Move Beyond Coal)
“If they [affected workers] get a verdict in which a jury concludes coal ash is dangerous enough to cause these kinds of diseases, that puts every producer of coal ash on notice that they’re now going to have to start telling people that it’s dangerous,”
Jamie Satterfield, an investigative journalist who has documented the struggle of workers who cleaned up the Kingston coal ash disaster in Tennessee.
Balkans: Coal unit failures at the 225 MW Pljevlja in Montenegro and 610 MW Kosovo A add to concerns over power supply during the looming winter months.
Canada: A conveyor’s “structural” failure has put Teck Resource’s Elkview coal mine out of operation for one to two months.
Czech Republic: European Union’s Just Transition Fund has awarded €1.64 billion (US$1.57 billion) in grants to support the Czech Republic’s plan to close all coal plants by 2033.
South Africa: Eskom announces a new training centre for renewable energy at the Komati coal plant, which is scheduled to close next month.
US: Sierra Club calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to reject Utah’s haze plan and set retirement dates for PacifiCorp’s Hunter and Huntington coal plants which are polluting the state’s national parks.
US: NGO Mobile Baykeeper sues Alabama Power over plan to leave 21 million tons (19 million tonnes) of coal ash at Plant Barry in an unlined pit on the floodplain next to the Mobile River.
“No matter where you go in the world today, energy transitions of one sort or another are underway. None of them is free of conflicts, contradictions, policy mistakes and capture by powerful interests,”
wrote Mark Swilling from the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.
Alarm at cryptocurrency’s appetite for coal power: A report by the University of Cambridge estimates that coal generation was the largest single source of electricity consumed in January to produce Bitcoin. The report estimates coal accounted for 36.6 per cent of Bitcoin’s electricity consumption, with fossil fuels accounting for 62.4 per cent. The report estimates renewables accounted for 26.3 per cent of Bitcoin’s electricity demand in January and nuclear a further 11.3 per cent. The industry claims renewables and nuclear accounted for 59.5 per cent of Bitcoin’s electricity demand. China’s ban on cryptocurrency mining has resulted in a significant shift by the industry to the US. Earthjustice and the Sierra Club estimate that cryptocurrency mining in July consumed as much electricity as the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island. The groups argue the industry’s rapid growth has resulted in defunct coal and gas plants being restarted and increased greenhouse gas and other pollution affecting local communities. (University of Cambridge, Earthjustice)
Banks promote technologies that could slow Asian shift away from coal: A study by a coalition of global and Asian banks has released guidelines for financing low-carbon technologies and energy transition projects in Asia. The report proposes strategies to reduce emissions from coal plants, including co-firing with hydrogen, biomass and ammonia. It also promotes the adoption of carbon capture and storage as a technology that could make projects eligible for financing as part of a transition. It also claims converting coal plants to run on gas is a pathway that is compatible with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement. The banks backing the study include Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Citigroup, HSBC, and Barclays. The report argues the financial sector would select from energy options identified by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, a Japanese-backed think tank. In one chart in the report, the study group suggests that co-firing a coal plant with up to 20 per cent of alternative fuels could delay its retirement from the 2030s to 2050. (Reuters, Asia Transition Finance Study Group [Pdf])
HSBC’s thermal coal policy creates big loopholes: HSBC Asset Management announced it will cease holding shares and debt in companies that earn more than 2.5 per cent of revenue from thermal coal in European Union and OECD countries by 2030 and globally by 2040. However, the policy only applies to its actively managed portfolio and any new passive funds. Reclaim Finance, an NGO campaigning to reform finance sector lending, said HSBC’s policy had major loopholes, including not applying to existing exchange-traded and index funds. The group also said the policy does not apply to commitments to new coal projects that companies made before January 2021 or new coal assets bought due to mergers and acquisitions. (Bloomberg, HSBC, Reclaim Finance)
US CCS subsidy safeguards watered down in climate legislation: Analysts fear that removing critical safeguards in the Inflation Reduction Act provisions providing incentives for carbon capture and storage projects could lead to increased pollution from coal plants rather than reducing it. The final Act increased the tax credit from US$50 per tonne to US$85 per tonne and, if used to increase oil and gas production via sale to an enhanced oil recovery project, increased from US$35 a tonne to US$60 a tonne. The original Build Back Better Bill proposed by progressives in the Democratic caucus provided the tax credit only where the carbon capture and storage projects captured 75 per cent of emissions from a coal plant. However, in the final Inflation Reduction Act, the threshold was amended to require only a “capture design capacity” of 75 per cent of baseline emissions at a unit level, not at the plant level. The Carbon Capture Coalition, a coalition of coal, oil, and power companies, supported weakening the safeguards included in the original Build Back Better Bill. (Energy and Policy Institute)
G7 steel policy scorecard released: A scorecard tracking G7 governments’ policies promoting the decarbonisation of the steel sector ranks Germany and France as the current policy leaders. The scorecard focuses on seven key policy measures to encourage domestic producers to decarbonise steel production. These include creating markets through public procurement, introducing a carbon price and providing funding for steel decarbonisation. Climate change think tank E3G said immediate priorities for G7 governments should be setting binding emission reduction targets for the steel sector. E3G also wants G7 governments to set a deadline for phasing out new unabated coal-based steel plants and prioritise the development of green hydrogen as an alternative to conventional blast furnace production. (E3G)
Sri Lankan Cabinet scraps controversial coal tender: The Sri Lankan Cabinet has ordered the cancellation of a controversial coal tender awarded by the state-owned Lanka Coal Company to the United Arab Emirates-based Black Sand Commodities. Black Sand Commodities was awarded the tender to supply 4.5 million tonnes of coal for the troubled 900 MW Norocholai coal plant. Controversy erupted when it was revealed the company wasn’t initially one of the short-listed bidders and offered coal at a higher price than other bidders. Opposition legislators had moved for an inquiry, and a Buddhist monk has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the contract. The government has directed Lanka Coal Company to issue a new tender. (EconomyNext)