March 28, 2019
Issue 269  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The International Energy Agency’s latest report finds a spike in generation from China’s coal plants — along with a handful of Southeast Asian nations — responsible for the growth in greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. As always with China there are mixed signals. Chinese Government officials have said that new soon-to-be-announced standards for “green bonds” will exclude coal plants. In its recently released annual report, China Shenhua, the biggest Chinese stock-exchange-listed coal company, flags flat domestic coal demand and coal power generation. Globally, however, a new report finds that four Chinese banks dominate global lending for new coal mines and coal power plants.

The good news is that Bloomberg New Energy Finance has found that rapid declines in the cost of solar and wind continue, with dramatic falls in the cost of lithium-ion batteries posing new challenges to both coal and gas generation. This global trend is underscored by a detailed study finding that most existing US coal plants are uneconomic compared to locally-sourced new wind and solar generation. The decision by the Navajo Nation to refuse to buy the uneconomic Navajo Generating Station in Arizona highlights coal power’s decline in the US.

Bob Burton


The inevitable decline of Australia’s coal generation

Australia’s aging and increasingly frail and expensive fleet of coal plants is on the way out, writes Leonard Quong in Bloomberg New Energy Finance.


Navajo Nation rules out purchase Arizona plant

A crucial committee of the Navajo Nation has voted 11-9 against continuing negotiations to take over the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona. In 2017, the four utilities that jointly own the 2250 megawatt (MW) plant decided to close it in December 2019 as it was uneconomic. However, Peabody Energy waged a vigorous campaign for government agencies and the Navajo Nation to keep the plant going. Peabody Energy operates the Kayenta mine, which is the sole supplier to the plant and lacks access to alternative markets. After other potential private bidders withdrew, the President of the Navajo Nation directed its special purpose company, the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, to try to take over the project as a way of supporting Navajo employees who worked at the mine and plant. However, while the plant owners proposed to transfer over US$100 million towards rehabilitation costs they also sought indemnity from future additional remediation costs. The newly elected Navajo lawmakers refused to take on additional liabilities and voted to end negotiations to buy the plant. (AZ Central, Salt Lake Tribune, CleanTechnica)

Top News

Global coal use grew in 2018: The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that in 2018 global coal demand for power generation and other industrial uses grew by 0.7 per cent or by 40 million tonnes of coal equivalent (MTCE), far slower than the 4.5 per cent annual growth rate over 2000–10. (MTCE is a way of equalising the energy value of different grades of coal.) While coal power generation continues to decline in Europe and the US, it grew by 5.3 per cent in China. In India, coal demand grew by 5 per cent. Southeast Asia is the region recording the strongest increase in coal use, with growth in Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. European coal demand for both power and industrial uses fell by 2.6 per cent in 2018. Overall, the IEA estimate that global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose by 1.7 per cent to 33 Gigatonnes (Gt) in 2018 with coal accounting for 10 Gt. (International Energy Agency)

Pakistan court orders submission of report on missing coal funds: The Supreme Court has ordered Sindh provincial officials to submit an audit report into the potential embezzlement of funds and illegal appointments to the Sindh Coal Authority. In October 2018, the court ordered the audit after it was alleged that billions of rupees had been misappropriated rather than used to support development projects such as water supply to communities affected by the Thar coal project. The development of the huge Thar lignite deposits has been promoted by Sindh province, with a 660 MW plant recently commissioned, partly financed by Chinese banks. China Machinery Engineering Corporation is one of the shareholders in the project consortium. (Dawn)

Modi Government grants Adani ‘special economic zone’ status: In the dying days of the Modi Government, with a general election due in May, Adani’s proposed 1600 MW Godda project in Jharkhand has become the first power project to be declared a special economic zone (SEZ). The project is proposed to be reliant on expensive imported coal with most of the power exported to Bangladesh under an agreement with the Bangladesh Power Development Board. The SEZ designation allows Adani to bypass planning restrictions and a pollution tax worth US$46 million a year. Gautam Adani, the CEO of Adani Enterprises, has long had a close relationship with the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who travelled on a private Adani jet during the 2014 election campaign. (Scroll)

Australian Government pledges financial support for new coal unit: The Australian Government has unveiled that an upgrade at the 40-year-old 1320 MW Vales Point power station owned by Delta Electricity is one of 12 projects shortlisted for potential government underwriting. Delta Electricity is half-owned by Trevor St Baker, who has been a generous financial donor to the Queensland Liberal National Party. While the government provided few details, earlier this year St Baker announced that he was seeking federal support for a new 660 MW unit at the plant. In a bid to placate a disgruntled National Party MP, Prime Minister Scott Morrison also announced that the government would fund a A$10 million (US$7.1 million) feasibility study on a new coal plant near Gladstone or Collinsvale in Queensland. (Guardian, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, RenewEconomy)

“CO2 emitted from coal combustion was responsible for over 0.3°C of the 1°C increase in global average annual surface temperatures above pre-industrial levels. This makes coal the single largest source of global temperature increase,”

writes the International Energy Agency.


Australia: Contractor who spent 12 weeks extinguishing the Hazelwood mine fire sues over lung condition.

Australia: Land and Environment Court rejects appeal against Wallarah 2 mine; appeal under consideration.

Australia: Adani fined A$13,055 (US$9283) for releasing polluted stormwater into the Caley Valley Wetlands from the Abbot Point coal terminal.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Energy Community launches state aid dispute settlement procedure over government guarantee for Chinese loan for Tuzla 7 lignite plant.

Canada: Uncertainty about the future of Westshore Terminal in Vancouver as Teck considers use of competing terminal and US exports are likely to decline.

India: Vasco residents submit coal dust samples collected from homes and offices to the chairman of the Goa State Pollution Control Board and demand an end to coal terminal operations.

Japan: Tohoku Electric Power has bought a 10 per cent stake in Maubeni and will invest in the 1200 MW Nghi Son 2 coal plant in Vietnam.

Philippines: Aringay town council passes resolution opposing Global Luzon Energy Development Corporation’s proposed 670 MW coal plant.

Romania: Government scraps tax of two per cent on turnover from coal power generation.

South Africa: High Court dismisses Coal Transporters Forum bid to block independent power projects.

UK: Energy company SSE agrees to close the 485 MW Unit 1 at the coal-fired Fiddler’s Ferry plant.

“Batteries co-located with solar or wind projects are starting to compete, in many markets and without subsidy, with coal- and gas-fired generation for the provision of ‘dispatchable power’ that can be delivered whenever the grid needs it (as opposed to only when the wind is blowing, or or the sun is shining),”writes Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Companies + Markets

Study finds new renewables more economic than most existing US coal plants: A report by Energy Innovation and Vibrant Clean Energy estimates that in 2018 new wind and solar generation could supply cheaper power than about 211,000 MW or 74 per cent of all US coal plants. It estimates that by 2025 new wind and solar will be cheaper than 246,000 MW or 86 per cent of US coal plants. The report estimated that the bulk of existing coal plants generated power at US$33–111 per megawatt hour (MWh) compared to US$28–52 per MWh for solar and US$13–88 per MWh for wind. The report noted that while assessing only solar and wind up to 35 miles (56 kilometres) from existing coal plants was restrictive, it was selected to allow local communities the opportunity to replace jobs, support the local rate base and use existing transmission infrastructure. However, the analysis notes that sourcing more remote renewable generation may be cheaper in many instances, indicating that even more existing coal capacity is at risk if lowest-cost sourcing is the sole criterion. (GTM, Energy Innovation)

Price slide in lithium-ion batteries provides further challenge to coal power: A new study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates that the cost of power from offshore wind has fallen by 24 per cent since the first half of 2018. It estimates that the cost of power from onshore wind is now US$50 per MWh and US$57 per MWh for solar, price declines of 10 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively, compared to a year ago. BNEF also found that the cost of energy from lithium-ion batteries has fallen by 35 per cent of the last year to US$187 per MWh. BNEF argues that the rapid decline in the cost of lithium-ion batteries, when paired with renewables projects, poses a new economic challenge to existing coal and gas generation projects. (GTM, Bloomberg New Energy Finance)

Chinese banks dominate lists of coal funders: The latest annual review of fossil fuel financing by the world’s largest 33 financial institutions by the Rainforest Action Network and other NGOs has found that over the last three years, funding for coal mining and coal power has fallen by only 3–5 per cent per year. This is far short of meeting the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the temperature increase to between a 1.5°C and 2°C warming over pre-industrial temperatures. The analysis found that the big four Chinese banks — the Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China, China Construction Bank, and ICBC — provided 71 per cent of all finance for coal mining and 55 per cent of all coal power funding. None of these four banks have policies restricting fossil fuel financing. More encouragingly, the analysis found that Wells Fargo and Natixis have not led any transactions for major coal mining companies since the Paris Agreement while CIBC and Bank of Montreal were in the same position on coal power. Nine of the 33 banks issued new policies restricting coal finance over the last year. (Rainforest Action Network)

China set to exclude coal from revised green bonds standard: The People’s Bank of China, China’s central bank which regulates the financial sector, has reportedly amended but not yet announced that new standards for “green bonds” will exclude coal plants. In 2015, the central bank included “clean coal” as one of the energy technologies eligible for financing through green bonds designed to facilitate China’s increased growth in cleaner, less polluting development. However, the inclusion of coal plants put China at odds with international investors, the increased emphasis on clean energy after the November Paris Agreement and drew criticism from environmental groups. The new standards are likely to be made public at the end of March. (Reuters)

Big Chinese coal miner cuts forecast: China Shenhua Energy Company, China’s largest stock-exchange-listed coal company, has flagged that in 2019 it will reduce commercial coal sales by 34 million tonnes or 7 per cent to 427 million tonnes. In its 2018 annual report, China Shenhua states that it expects China’s coal consumption “to be basically stable” in 2019, with coal production growth “expected to be limited” due to stricter safety and environmental standards. Shenhua plans to produce 290 million tonnes of coal for sale this year. Shenhua, which has 60,000 MW of coal power generation capacity, noted that in 2018 China’s installed wind generation capacity grew by 20 per cent or 21,000 MW and solar grew by 51 per cent or 44,700 MW. The company, which has no wind or solar generation capacity, notes that the rapid growth of renewables will limit the potential for further growth of thermal generation. (CX Live, China Shenhua Energy Company)

Study finds Energy Community coal plants reap big subsidies: An analysis by the secretariat of the Energy Community has found that coal-fired generation among the member nations received about €2.4 billion (US$2.7 billion) a year in direct and indirect subsidies.Direct subsidies were estimated at €414 million (US$468 million) a year with the balance attributed to avoided carbon dioxide emission costs and allowances for losses. The Energy Community comprises the European Union (EU) and ten member countries of south-eastern Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia and Ukraine. The Energy Community aims to harmonise member countries’ energy policies with EU’s energy market rules, including a ban on state aid to coal mining and power companies. The study estimates that without the subsidies and with a carbon price all of the coal plants in the member nations would operate at “significant losses”. The study made no allowance for the health costs of pollution from the region’s coal plants. (Climate Home, European Energy Community)

Ramaphosa warns unions on perilous state of Eskom finances: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has warned leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers that Eskom’s finances are so bad that it may not be able to pay salaries at the end of April, a charge denied by the utility. Ramaphosa, who is trying to overcome union opposition to his plan to split Eskom into generation, transmission and distribution subsidiaries. Goldman Sachs estimates that the recent prolonged blackouts caused by Eskom’s faulty coal plants will trim 0.3 per cent from South Africa’s first-quarter GDP growth. (City Press, Reuters)

Vietnam power price rise to cover imported coal prices: Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade has announced that retail electricity prices have been increased by 8.36 per cent to an average of 8 US cents per kilowatt hour. The price increase has been defended by government officials as a means to attract increased foreign investment into the power sector, offset the costs of imported coal and gas, and pass through the costs of the impact of foreign currency fluctuations on imposed fossil fuels. The power price increase comes at a time of internal Communist Party debate over public opposition to coal and the viability of renewables. Fitch Ratings, the long-time pro-coal consultancy group Wood Mackenzie and the Japan External Trade Organization, a Japanese government agency, have all recently claimed that Vietnam has little alternative to new coal plants. International renewables companies have also complained that renewables power purchase prices have been set at unrealistically low levels. (Reuters, Viet Nam News, Viet


The Coal Cost Crossover: Economic Viability Of Existing Coal Compared To New Local Wind And Solar Resources, Energy Innovation and Vibrant Clean Energy, March 2019. (Pdf) (Maps of existing coal plants and new local renewables are here.)

This 24-page report investigates the opportunity for new local wind and solar generation to displace coal generation in the US.

Banking on Climate Change 2019, Rainforest Action Network and others, March 2019. (Pdf)

This 11-page report provides a detailed overview and data on trends in fossil fuel financing with a specific section addressing coal mining and coal power generation.