October 25, 2018
Issue 251  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

Could an exit from coal power happen far faster than even the coal industry thinks possible? The results of a plan by a major utility in the US state of Indiana suggest so. Their modelling — including using a scenario suggested by a coal lobby group — found that the faster they got out of coal the better off consumers would be financially. A former Australian Government energy adviser also thinks coal plants will close well before their technical life ends. In the UK, an investor in two Polish energy utilities has flagged its alarm at the risks of pushing ahead with a new coal plant.

Recent events in Australia also indicate that the political costs of resisting a transition to renewables can be high too, with the Morrison government losing its majority in the lower house after a stinging defeat in a by-election. A new health study has also found that an accelerated transition to renewables in China and India could dramatically cut premature deaths in the provinces and states most impacted by coal plant pollution.

In South Korea, a public utility has revealed that a coal project in Indonesia has been shelved and may be converted to renewables. In New Zealand, a legal challenge against a proposed coal mine by an environment group has been successful. In South Africa, a judge has rejected an attempt by a provincial government to undermine a court case challenging the approvals of a mine in a protected area.

Some coal projects keep staggering on despite legal setbacks. In the US, the Trump administration is trying to push through a new coal export terminal even though a key permit has already been rejected by Washington State. But not all projects are decided based solely on the rule of law. In Myanmar, a community opposing a proposed coal mine is up against the interests of a military-linked company.

Bob Burton


Grassroots environmental protests spring up across Turkey

A wave of grassroots environmentalist protests is growing across Turkey in reaction to the dozens of megaprojects, including coal plants, that are changing the face of Turkey’s economy and landscapes, writes Piero Castellano in Ahval.

Australian insurance company QBE’s support for fossil fuels is costing its customers

QBE, Australia’s biggest global insurer, is refusing to follow its global peers and stop supporting the coal industry, writes Pablo Brait from Market Forces.


South Korean company reveals Indonesian plant scrapped

The CEO of Korea Midland Power, a subsidiary of the South Korean utility KEPCO, recently told a hearing of a Korean National Assembly committee that the development of the proposed 1000 megawatt (MW) Cirebon 3 coal plant in Indonesia has been suspended. Instead, Mr. Hyung-Gu Park said the project would be converted to a renewable energy project. At the hearing, the CEO of Korea Western Power, another KEPCO subsidiary, said that it would also consider converting the proposed 1200 MW Quang Tri 2 coal plant in Vietnam to a renewables project. South Korean utilities are among the leading investors in new coal plants globally. (ET [Google Translate], Trade, Industry and Energy Committee of the Korean National Assembly)

New Zealand Court of Appeal blocks mine plan on reserved council land

The Court of Appeal of New Zealand has ruled in favour of Forest and Bird which challenged the decision of Buller District Council to allow 104 hectares of public reserve land it administered to be excavated as part of Stevenson Mining’s proposed Te Kuha mine. Forest and Bird argued that the protection of the values of the reserve land, which was set aside in 1951 for water conservation, required the rejection of the proposed mining operation. Stevenson Mining’s subsidiary argued that the Buller District Council could balance economic benefits against the environmental impacts. However, the Court of Appeal found that the council cannot enter into an access arrangement that is incompatible with the primary purpose of the reserve. It also found the council was required to protect the natural and biological features of the reserve, which include two endangered species including the great spotted kiwi. (Forest and Bird, Court of Appeal of New Zealand)

Top News

Court rebuffs South African provincial government over rezoning move: Pretoria High Court judge, Norman Davis, has awarded punitive costs against Mpumalanga Province after it attempted to have a court case delayed by moving to exclude land for Atha-Africa Ventures’ proposed Yzermyn underground coal mine from the Mabola Protected Environment. Just days before the court was due to hear a legal challenge by eight environmental and community groups against authorisation for the mine, Mpumalanga’s member of the Executive Council for Environmental Affairs, Vusi Shongwe, signalled the province’s intention to revoke part of the protected area. Legal counsel for Mpumalanga then sought to have the case deferred. However, Judge Davis rejected their application and ordered that the case proceed. (Moneyweb, AllAfrica)

Australian Government teeters after by-election loss: Australia’s pro-coal government led by Scott Morrison is now a minority government after losing the formerly safe Liberal Party seat of Wentworth in a by-election caused by the resignation of the recently ousted former prime minister, Malcom Turnbull. Morrison, who infamously held up a lump of coal in the Australian Parliament last year, has refused to develop a climate policy despite strong support for one in the socially progressive electorate. Exit polling of voters undertaken by a progressive think tank, the Australia Institute, found that climate policy and a transition from coal to renewables was the highest-ranked issue for voters, especially for supporters of the winning independent candidate, Kerryn Phelps. A federal election is due by May 2019. Just days after its electoral loss, the Morrison government unveiled a plan to subsidise new coal plant capacity or upgrades of existing plants. (Guardian, Australia Institute, Guardian)

Health study pinpoints zones in China and India to cut coal pollution: A study by Harvard University researchers estimates that each year 15 million years of lost life could be avoided in China and 11 million years in India by eliminating air pollution from coal power generation. The study, which was published in the journal Environment International, identified Shandong, Henan and Sichuan provinces in China, and Uttar Pradesh state in India as priority areas for a shift to clean energy due to the magnitude of health risks originating from fine particle air pollution from coal plants. (EurekAlert, Environment International)

Myanmar villagers challenge military-linked mine plan: Over 600 villagers have submitted letters to local, district and Shan State government officials opposing a proposed coal mine aimed at supplying an iron ore mine and a steel plant near Hopong township. Land for the mine was confiscated by the military in 1996 and the Light Infantry Battalion 131 was granted a coal mining license in 2009 by the then military dictatorship. In 2015 a company owned by the battalion sold the mining rights for cash and a 17 per cent slice of profits from mining. Villagers oppose the mine as the Nam Hen stream, which is likely to be affected by mining, is the only water source for over 18,000 people in 50 downstream villages and for thousands of hectares of farmland. (Irrawaddy)

US court told of health impacts on workers of coal ash clean-up: A worker has told the court that he developed chest pains and breathing problems just months after beginning work for Jacobs Engineering on the clean-up of the coal ash spill from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. Thompson said that prior to this a Jacobs Engineering manager had warned workers they would be sacked if they wore masks. When he visited his doctor over his symptoms, 30-year old Kevin Thompson was told to wear a dust mask. However, days after turning up to work with a dust mask he was sacked. Over 50 coal ash spill clean-up workers and family members are suing Jacobs Engineering for unsafe working conditions. Thirty workers involved in the clean-up have died and a further 250 former workers are sick or dying. (Knox News)

US agency restarts permitting for rejected coal port: Washington State has criticised moves by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to restart its environmental review of the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals – Longview coal export terminal on the Columbia River. In September 2017, Washington State Department of Ecology rejected a water quality permit for the project on the grounds of damage to the environment. The department wrote to USACE stating that under the Clean Water Act it was prevented from issuing a permit for the project as the state had denied water quality certification. Pro-coal senators from Montana and Wyoming have been pressing the Trump administration to continue to assess the project claiming Washington State has waived its authority to issue a permit for the project. The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians oppose USACE’s decision to continue to assess the project. (OregonLive)

Australian coal lobbyist departs peak mining industry group: Greg Evans, the Executive Director – Coal of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), has been made redundant in the latest change to the staffing of the peak coal lobby group. Last year, the then CEO of the MCA, Brendan Pearson, left the lobby group following a dispute over climate policy with BHP and Rio Tinto, the group’s two largest funders. While the upheavals were largely attributable to an internal debate over climate policy, the organisation’s new CEO, Tania Constable, recently stated, “we don’t see a transition out of coal in the short, medium or even in the longer term at this stage.” (Australian Financial Review [paywall], ABC)

“Commercial reasons will be made about retiring coal plants and they're likely to get dropped out the door faster than their technical lives would suggest,”

said Dr Kerry Schott, a former Australian Government energy policy adviser.


Australia: Almost half of Origin Energy shareholders voted for a shareholder resolution requiring greater disclosure on the company’s climate lobbying.

China: Central government criticises coal-producing Ningxia province for lacking the “will” to cut air pollution.

Finland: Government tables proposal to phase out coal power by May 1, 2029.

France: Energy utility EDF flags likely industrial action over plans to phase out its last three coal units.

Malaysia: Government aims to finalise energy plan for Sabah by year end, with domestic coal power plants still under consideration.

Papua New Guinea: Mayur Resources signs memorandum of agreement with Lae City Authority and Morobe Provincial Government for 60 MW Lae coal plant.

Tanzania: Kibo Energy submits tender document for proposed 600 MW Mbeya coal plant.

UK: High Court hears Banks Mining challenge against rejection of its Druridge Bay coal mining plan.

US: Ramarco Carbon revives plan for previously rejected but now scaled-back Brooks mine in Wyoming.

US: Legal challenge against Environmental Protection Agency rule weakening coal ash disposal at power plants.

“Given the increasingly competitive cost of renewable energy technologies, the growing risk of stranded fossil fuel assets, and the rising shadow carbon price, coal-based power plants will no longer be a viable option to meet the electricity demand of developing countries,”

wrote Yongping Zhai, the head of Asian Development Bank’s Energy Sector Group in VietnamNews.

Companies + Markets

US utility finds fast coal exit is the cheapest option: The Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) has proposed that cutting coal generation from 65 per cent now to 15 per cent by 2023 and being coal-free by 2028 would save its customers US$4 billion over 30 years. While NIPSCO found the cheapest option would be to exit from coal entirely by 2023, it was concerned about its ability to meet reliability standards. At the suggestion of the Indiana Coal Council, a coal industry lobby group, NIPSCO modelled a scenario that assumed high gas prices, no carbon price and a flat cost of coal. Even with those assumptions NIPSCO found “retiring coal faster was still cheaper than keeping it around.”(Utility Dive, NIPSCO)

Investor in Polish utilities baulks at new plant plan: Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) has flagged that it has “serious concerns” over the viability of the proposed US$1.6 billion Ostroleka C plant. LGIM has investments in both the Polish energy utilities Enea and Energa seeking to develop the proposed 1000 MW plant. LGIM’s head of sustainability and responsible investment strategy, Meryam Omi, said the company was concerned as “our clients are exposed to very high financial risks due its uncertain policy support, rising carbon prices, unreliable capacity payments and threat of new technologies in energy generation.” While both Enea and Energa have approved the project so far, further corporate decisions will be required before construction can start. (Reuters)

Major Indian utility looks to switch biomass for some coal: NTPC, the Indian Government-owned utility, which generates about 25 per cent of the country’s electricity, is reportedly set to call for tenders for biomass pellets and briquettes for use in its coal plants. In November 2017, the Central Electricity Authority requested that all power utilities endeavour to have biomass pellets made from domestic agricultural waste account for between five and 10 per cent of the fuel used in coal plants. The policy has been promoted as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a market for agricultural waste which is often otherwise burnt and is a major contributor to air pollution. (Times of India)

Mining companies look to adapt to likely Welsh coal ban: The Welsh Government’s proposed planning policy of effectively banning new coal mines has forced Celtic Energy to shift its strategy from mining coal to rehabilitating old coal mining sites and converting areas to provide new housing. The chief executive of Celtic Energy, Will Watson, said the Welsh Government’s move to ban new coal mines is “not unexpected” and it wants to work with the national and local governments in post-mining developments. The Welsh Government’s draft planning policy, which is due to be finalised by the end of the year, proposes that new “opencast, deep-mine development or colliery spoil disposal should not be permitted” but allows consideration of projects in “wholly exceptional circumstances.” (BBC News)

Eskom seeks 15 per cent price rise: Eskom has applied to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) for a 15 per cent tariff increase for the next three years. However, Eskom states the proposed increase would not cover all the projected cash shortfalls for 2019–20 and 2020–21. Nersa is considered unlikely to grant the full amount sought by Eskom. The price of electricity sold by Eskom has increased by 350 per cent over the decade to 2017, over four times higher than the inflation rate. In a separate development, an independent director of Eskom, George Sebulela, has resigned after the board obtained legal advice over a potential conflict of interest he had as part of a consortium selected as a preferred bidder for an IT contract. (Business Day, Mail & Guardian)

Trump's coal bailout plan lingers on in a different guise: While one version of the Trump administration’s plan to bail out ailing coal and nuclear plants appears to have been shelved, critics note that proposals with similar effect could be pursued through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) where Republican nominees have floated several proposals, one of which is to set minimum bidding prices for renewable energy. This would keep struggling coal and nuclear generators in the market. FERC is holding hearings on how the proposed rule could be implemented in the PJM Interconnection, which operates a regional wholesale market covering 13 eastern states and the District of Columbia. (Washington Examiner)


Lignite Retreat: RWE’s Short-Term Pain, Long-Term Gain, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, October 2018. (Pdf) (Media release here.)

This 18-page report argues that the German utility RWE would be better off in the medium to long term by reducing its lignite mining operations and closing its oldest lignite-fired power plants.

Coal Kills, Research and Dialogue for a Just Transition, GroundWork, September 2018. (Pdf)

This 31-page report is a compilation of brief reports by a number of organisations on the impacts of coal mining and power generation on the communities and environment of the Highveld in Mpumalanga province. It also flags issues central to the development of appropriate just transition strategies for the Highveld.

Impacts of Burning Coal on Michigan's Water Quality, Michigan Environmental Council, October 2018. (Pdf)

The 20-page report details how Michigan’s coal plants and coal ash dams have contaminated Michigan’s Great Lakes and waterways with toxins like mercury, arsenic and lead.

Science based coal phase-out pathway for Germany in line with the Paris Agreement 1.5°C warming limit: Opportunities and benefits of an accelerated energy transition, Climate Analytics, October 2018. (Pdf) (Media release in English here and in German here.)

This 48-page report examines what the Paris Agreement 1.5°C limit means for coal phase out in Germany’s electricity generation.