Why private equity won’t be the saviour of fossil fuels
Far from exploding in the five years since big mining companies started selling out of thermal coal, private equity activity in the sector has very nearly ground to a halt, writes David Fickling in Bloomberg.
Living below a coal tip leaves families fearing rain
In parts of Wales, residents living downslope of abandoned coal tips worry every time it rains, writes Will Fyfe in the BBC News.
Manchin's coal capture is so much worse than you knew
Senator Joe Manchin is a man with coal dust in his veins who has used his political skills to enrich himself, not the people of his state, writes Bill McKibben in RollingStone.
Germany's coal phase-out: The last farmer standing
Eckhardt Heukamp refuses to move from his farm in Lutzerath, a village in western Germany slated for demolition to expand the Garzweiler lignite mine, writes Oliver Pieper in Deutsche Welle.
Czech Republic set to phase out coal power by 2033
The new government of the Czech Republic has announced the country will phase out coal power by 2033. A coal commission appointed by the previous government had recommended a coal phase-out by 2038. The agreement between the five parties forming the new government led by centre-right Prime Minister-designate Petr Fiala has committed to closing the plants earlier. The Czech Republic has 26 coal plants with a combined capacity of 7906 megawatts (MW) which generate about half of the country’s electricity. Europe Beyond Coal said the government needed to accelerate the transition to align with a 2030 target date. The coal commission’s modelling had assumed a European carbon price of 30 euros per tonne in 2030, modest growth in renewables generation and no coal plants closing before 2029. The carbon price is now trading at over 80 euros per tonne. A spokesperson for Greenpeace said the trend across Europe was for accelerated closures and expects the same will occur in the Czech Republic. (ABC News, Europe Beyond Coal)
Polish ambassador criticises his government’s handling of coal dispute: The Polish Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Miroslaw Jasinski, said Poland had shown “lack of empathy, a lack of understanding and a lack of will to open a dialogue” over environmental impacts from the impacts of the Turow mine including damaging groundwater supplies across the border. He said a major cause of the conflict was the “arrogance” of mine management and the state-owned utility PGE. The government described Jasinski’s comments as “extremely irresponsible” and recalled him. In May 2021, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) directed Poland to suspend operations at the mine until the completion of the legal case over the project's impacts. Poland defied the ruling. In September 2021, the ECJ ordered Poland to pay the Czech Republic €500,000 (US$467,000) for each day the mine continued to operate. Poland has also defied this ruling. (Seattle Times)
Tailings dam collapses at South African coal mine: On Christmas Eve, a tailings dam at the Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) in South Africa collapsed, spilling 1.5 million litres of coal slurry into the Mvalo River catchment. The company said the failure of a “newly completed” wall at the third of the tailings dams at the mine site caused the spill. The Zululand District Municipality has called for the revocation of the company’s mining licence after the collapse. The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs directed ZAC to extend its water monitoring sites beyond the current four proposed locations to include the World Heritage-listed iSimangaliso Wetland Park. (SABC, Mining Weekly, Daily Maverick, Zululand Anthracite Colliery)
US EPA steps up enforcement over coal ash dams: The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed rejecting requests to continue to dispose of coal ash in unlined dams at three major coal power plants. The coal plants are the 1304 MW Clifty Creek plant in Indiana, the 2600 MW James M. Gavin plant in Ohio and the 726 MW Ottumwa plant in Iowa. The EPA determined the continued use of coal ash dams at the three plants should not be allowed as defects in their proposed management could prevent adequate groundwater cleanup. The EPA proposed conditional approval for the operation of the coal ash dam at the 1371 MW H.L. Spurlock Power Station plant in Kentucky, subject to rectifying groundwater monitoring issues. Current EPA regulations require most of the estimated 500 unlined coal ash dams to begin closure by April 2021 but allow utilities to apply for an extension. The EPA is considering a further 48 requests for an extension on the closure deadline. Earthjustice and the Southern Environmental Law Center welcomed the EPA decisions as a strong signal that power utilities cannot continue to operate leaking, unlined ash dams. (Associated Press, Environmental Protection Agency)
Pressure increases on Manchin to revisit Biden’s climate bill: Speculation swirls around whether rebel Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin will support a revised version of President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better Bill. In December 2021, Manchin rejected the bill claiming it would “risk the reliability of our electric grid” and boost renewables deployment “at a rate that is faster than technology or the markets allow.” However, the United Mine Workers of America urged Manchin to review his position. The bill includes increased support for miners suffering from black lung disease, businesses building manufacturing facilities in mining communities and protections against union-busting campaigns. Biden’s spokesperson said the bill remains a priority in 2022 for the President. Early in January, Manchin said no negotiations were occurring “at this time”. (Reuters, United Mine Workers of America, Guardian)
Farmers buy back land once earmarked for Shenhua’s Australian mine: A dozen farming families and an agricultural company have repurchased 16,000 hectares of the rich Liverpool Plains land previously owned by the Chinese energy company Shenhua and earmarked for the Watermark coal mine. Farmers and the Gomeroi Traditional Owners campaigned for a decade to block the mine. While the farming community celebrated the A$120 million (US$87 million) purchase of the land, Dolly Talbott, a representative of the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians, called on farmers to ensure Traditional Owners could access large ceremonial areas, grinding groove sites, scarred trees, burial sites and artefacts. (ABC, Guardian)
Commission of inquiry details Eskom’s deals to benefit Gupta companies: The 874-page first stage report of the State Capture Commission headed by Judge Raymond Zondo has released damning findings about dealings between the Gupta family and former President Jacob Zuma and his allies. The report concludes the evidence revealed “a scarcely believable picture of rampant corruption” at government-owned utilities such as Eskom and the rail services operator, Transnet. The report found Eskom and Transnet had provided “unjustified public spending” to the Gupta-owned media enterprise, TNA Media, between 2011 and 2017. Eskom officials testified that despite spending over 47 million rand (US$3 million) on three contracts with TNA Media, they were of no value to the utility. The commission also found Zuma was directly involved in removing three Eskom executives and their replacement by Gupta associates. The commission's two further reports are due to be released by the end of February. (State Capture Commission [large pdf])
“I have a saying. I'd rather be smacked with the truth than kissed with a lie,”
said Jeffrey Smith, a taxi driver and retired coal miner on the failure of Australian politicians to be open about the decline of the coal sector.
Canada: Environment groups call for the public release of reports on the Alberta Government’s proposed coal mining policy for the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Mongolia: Coal exports in 2021 slumped to 15.9 million tonnes, a 44.3 per cent decline compared to the year before.
Montenegro: Rudnik Uglja, the country’s only coal mine operator, plans to diversify into cement production.
Pakistan: Asian Development Bank confirms commencement of feasibility study into buying existing coal plants and replacing them with renewable capacity.
South Africa: Eskom confirms a transformer explosion on the 190 MW Unit 8 of the Camden Power Station.
US: Coal exports from transport company CSX’s Curtis Bay coal terminal have been suspended following an explosion at a coal transfer station.
US: The Illinois attorney general has launched legal action against Foresight Energy for using toxic PFAS-based foam to extinguish its Sugar Camp mine fire.
US: Judge allows case to proceed on warm water discharge from the 482 MW Merrimack Station in New Hampshire acting as a barrier to fish migration.
US: The New York State Teachers’ Retirement System will sell [pdf] US$66.1 million in stocks held in companies that earned more than 10 per cent of their revenue from thermal coal.
Vietnam: Mitsubishi sells a 15 per cent stake in the 1200 MW Vung Ang 2 coal plant to Shikoku Electric Power Company.
Indonesia suspends coal exports to allow domestic plants to restock: At the start of January, Indonesia banned thermal coal exports to enable the state-owned power utility PLN to replenish coal stockpiles at 20 plants with a combined capacity of 10,850 MW. Indonesia requires all thermal coal mining companies to offer 25 per cent of production to the domestic market at or below a benchmark price. A senior Ministry of Energy official said failure to enforce the domestic market obligation could disrupt the national economy. Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal, with China, India, Japan and South Korea the largest customers. The Indonesian Coal Mining Association estimated 35–40 million tonnes would be affected if the ban was enforced for all of January as proposed. On January 10, officials allowed 14 already loaded ships to sail. (Platts, Pnomh Penh Post, Reuters)
US audit report criticises wasteful spending on carbon capture projects: A US Government Accountability Office audit of US$1.1 billion spent by the Department of Energy (DOE) on 11 CCS projects found only three were ever built. The audit found that despite the US$684 million spent on eight coal projects, none are operational. The DOE spent US$195 million on NRG Energy’s Petra Nova project in Texas, which intended to capture 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions from a 240 MW unit at the W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station for use in an enhanced oil recovery project. The plant was completed in 2016 but was mothballed in May 2020 due to low oil prices, which undercut the demand for compressed carbon dioxide. The report found the DOE ignored cost control processes and spent US$472 million on four unbuilt coal projects, S$300 million more than planned for those projects. (Reuters, EnergyWire)
Canadian CCS plant offline for over half of 2021: SaskPower attributed the underperformance of the carbon capture and storage (CCS) unit at the 110 MW Boundary Dam 3 in 2021 to a significant fault in the main carbon dioxide (CO2) compressor motor. The CCS plant, the only one in the world operating on a commercial coal plant, has experienced ongoing technical difficulties since it was commissioned in October 2014. In 2021 the plant captured 43 per cent less carbon dioxide than the year before and has consistently fallen well short of the target of capturing 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year. The failure of the plant to operate reliably has also affected the economics of the project as SaskPower had counted on selling the CO2 for US$19 (C$25) a tonne to Cenovus Energy for use in an enhanced oil recovery project. SaskPower renegotiated the contract in 2016 to cut the volume of CO2 available for sale to about 50 per cent of the plant's capacity. (EnergyWire)
Report argues big savings for Polish taxpayers in early coal phase out: A report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis estimates Polish taxpayers would save at least €141 billion (US$160 billion) if the government phased out coal generation by 2030 and instead invested in low-carbon power generation alternatives. It calculates the savings could be about €200 billion (US$227 billion) if European Union carbon prices rise and Polish coal plants continue to operate though to 2040. Poland’s latest power development plan, PEP2040, proposes the development of offshore wind projects, nuclear plants and a transition plan for coal regions. However, it also includes phasing out onshore wind farms. As part of the plan, three partly state-owned companies – PGE, Tauron and Enea – will offload their existing coal plants to a new government-owned entity to free the utilities to develop new energy projects. Poland has 50 operating coal plants, with a combined capacity of 30,170 MW, which generate about 70 per cent of the country’s electricity. (Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis)
Brazilian President extends subsidy for coal plants from 2027 to 2040: Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has signed a bill requiring the government to buy electricity from the 857 MW Jorge Lacerda coal plant and two other plants at above-market rates until 2040. The subsidy was due to end in 2027, and the authorisation for the state’s three coal plants was to expire in 2025. Abrace, a lobby group for Brazil’s energy-intensive industries, estimates the decision will cost 2.24 billion real (US$404 million) per year, which it says is 840 million real (US$149 million) per year higher than the cost of renewable generation. Bolsonaro is seeking re-election in October 2022, and Santa Catarina state, where the country’s two operating mines are, has been one of his political strongholds. (Argus, Reuters)
Analysts tip US utilities to accelerate coal plant closures: US power sector analysts are tipping that major power utilities will seek to accelerate coal plant closures as major investors back companies expanding renewable generation. “It is truly a race... and companies are all but tripping over themselves to exit coal generation,” Wells Fargo Securities analysts wrote in a December 1 briefing. Another financial services firm, CreditSights, said that while companies such as AEP and Duke Energy were among the utilities that currently scored worst in their environmental, social and governance (ESG) rankings, they stood to benefit as they shifted to a cleaner power generation mix. However, CreditSights said power utilities such as PPL, FirstEnergy and Eversource Energy “show minimal upside trajectory” due to their proposed long-term reliance on coal generation. (S & P Global)
US coal companies back anti-ESG legislation: Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request have revealed that the West Virginia Coal Association – with the support of Arch Resources, Alliance Resource Partners and American Consolidated Natural Resource – proposed the state introduce legislation to “make it an unlawful, discriminatory practice for financial institutions or insurance companies to assess higher premiums, surcharges or interest based on a company’s fossil energy holdings.” Shortly afterwards, a bill was sent to Republican West Virginia House of Delegates member Zack Maynard who introduced a near-identical bill. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed group that promotes model legislation for adoption by its network of conservative legislators, is backing the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act. The bill requires state comptrollers to sell all interests in financial institutions identified as not supporting fossil fuel companies. (New Republic)