September 2, 2021
Issue 384  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

With polling in the first few weeks of Canada’s election campaign indicating voter support for the governing Liberal Party, the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson, pledged his party would phase out thermal coal exports by 2030 if re-elected. While Canada is a relatively minor exporter of thermal coal, the pledge is significant as the first time a country has added a promise to end thermal coal exports to its plan to phase out domestic coal power. In the German election campaign, most major parties are discussing how to increase renewables deployment even if commitments to a new coal exit date remain elusive. The Greens, who are likely to be part of any coalition government, have said a 2030 coal exit date is a condition of them entering into a coalition.

Elsewhere, the Asian Development Bank has urged Cambodia to rethink its commitment to costly new coal plants. South Africa, which ignored warnings against pursuing the construction of the huge Medupi and Kusile coal plants, stands as a cautionary tale of what can go wrong with the pursuit of coal mega-projects. Eskom, the government-owned utility, which is now faced with a major financial crisis and rising coal costs, is struggling to bridge to a renewables-based future.

Where once metallurgical coal producers thought their role in producing steel a get-out-of-jail card, this is no longer proving to be the case. In Australia, a new underground metallurgical coal mine promoted by the South Korean company POSCO has been rejected. In the UK, a proposed new metallurgical coal mine is facing an inquiry. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates alternatives to coal-based steel production will be competitive before 2050. Shifting steel producers away from reliance on coal will require support from governments and customers. However, the proposal by one group to offer a green tick of approval for steel produced from conventional coal-based blast furnaces reliant on coal power has prompted criticism from one non-government organisation.

Bob Burton


Adani’s ‘deadly addiction’ to coal

Adani’s response to growing warnings from climate policy leaders on the need to drop new coal projects has been to deepen its commitment to coal even further, by winning the rights to open up four huge new ‘coal blocks’ in the rural hinterland of India, writes Geoff Law in Adani Watch.

The sorry tale of South Africa’s Medupi coal plant

The construction of Eskom’s 4800 megawatt (MW) Medupi coal plant has been an environmental tragedy from its conception, writes David Hallowes from groundWork in Business Day.

When will the Western Balkans kick its coal habit?

Despite the pollution impacts from coal, Western Balkan governments – with the exception of North Macedonia – seem reticent to commit to a clearly defined coal exit, writes Nikola Dordevic in Emerging Europe.


Australian coal mine rejected 

The New South Wales Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has blocked plans by Hume Coal to develop the proposed A$533 million (US$390 million) Hume Coal and Berrima Rail project. The IPC ruled the underground coal mine was “not in the public interest” due to the “potential for long-term and irreversible impacts” on the social and environmental values of the region. The IPC also found the project would “pose an unacceptable risk to Sydney’s drinking water catchment.” Hume Coal, a subsidiary of the South Korean steel manufacturer, POSCO, proposed to produce about 50 million tonnes of coal over 23 years. The decision has been welcomed by Peter Martin from Coal Free Southern Highlands who said “we shouldn’t have had to fight for so long against this coal mine which was always a crazy proposition from day one.” (Independent Planning Commission, Lock the Gate)

Top News

Canadian party promises to end thermal coal exports by 2030: Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson, has promised to end thermal coal exports by 2030 if the Liberal Party is returned at the September 20 election. Canada exported about 5.4 million tonnes of thermal coal in 2020 as well as 32 million tonnes of metallurgical coal. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an early election in the hope of his party winning a majority of seats outright. However, polling suggests he may lose some seats and lead another minority government with the support of the centre-left New Democratic Party. (Liberal Party of Canada)

German court rules against Datteln4 coal plant: A German court has ruled in favour of a legal action brought by the town of Waltrop, residents and the German branch of Friends of the Earth (BUND) against a development plan promulgated by North Rhine-Westphalia authorities to allow the construction of the 1100 MW Datteln 4 coal plant. In 2009 BUND won an injunction to block construction of the plant, and another court revoked the construction permit for the project in 2014. Local authorities issued a new zoning plan to bypass these decisions and allow the plant to proceed. The plant was finally commissioned in May 2020, despite a recommendation by the coal commission that it not be brought online. The latest ruling does not mean the plant must shut down but ClientEarth says if Uniper loses a separate legal challenge against the operating permit for the plant, it will have to cease operating. The plant sources most of its coal from Russia and Colombia. (EurActiv, ClientEarth)

German parties agree on boosting renewables but not new coal end date: Climate policy has emerged as one of the key differences in the first of three television debates between the three leading candidates campaigning to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor: Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union leader Armin Laschet, the Social Democratic Party’s Olaf Scholz and the Greens Annalena Baerbock. Baerbock promised she would accelerate the closure of lignite plants by 2030 while all three agreed on the need to accelerate the construction of new renewables capacity. At a separate debate hosted by Klima-Allianz, representatives of all parties except the far-right Alternative for Germany said they were open to phasing out coal power ahead of the legislated 2038 end date. A recent court decision requiring more ambitious emissions reduction targets makes an accelerated phase-out inevitable, and the most likely outcome of the September 26 election is a multi-party government including the Greens. (Financial Times, Clean Energy Wire)

US pipeline accident reveals risks of carbon dioxide leaks: A major investigation by HuffPost and the Climate Investigations Center revealed a major leak from a Denbury Resources carbon dioxide (CO2) pipeline and highlighted how energy management services were ill-prepared to handle a major pipeline leak. The pipeline is used to transport condensed CO2 from Jackson Dome, a natural underground source, to the company’s Tinsley oilfield. Injecting CO2 into a declining oilfield can boost recovery rates from the normal range of 20 to 40 per cent of the resource to as much as 60 per cent. The local energy management services said “if the wind blew the other way, if it’d been later when people were sleeping, we would have had deaths.” Carbon capture and storage projects with fossil fuel power plants and steel mills require the captured CO2 to be piped to oilfields or underground storage zones. (HuffPost)

Chinese provinces approve two dozen new coal plants in first half of 2021: Greenpeace East Asia reports that in the first half of 2021 provincial planning agencies in China approved 24 new coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of 5200 MW. The capacity increase reflects a 79 per cent decrease on the first half of 2020 when local authorities approved new projects to stimulate construction jobs after the impact on COVID-19 restrictions. While 21 of the projects were small combined heat and power plants, three projects in Anhui and Shaanxi provinces have a combined capacity of 3300 MW or 64 per cent of the approved capacity. Despite President Xi Jinping’s pledge for China’s greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2030, provinces can proceed with coal plants independent of central government plans. “The dynamic between the central and local government is still the core problem,” said Li Danqing, a coal campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia. (Reuters, Greenpeace EastAsia)

Rebuff for US state seeking to delay coal closures: Despite recent legislative changes aimed at making it harder for utilities to retire coal plants, Rocky Mountain Power has told Wyoming officials that it plans to shutter 14 of its coal units by 2030 with a further five units to be closed by the end of 2039. Rocky Mountain Power, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp, provides electricity to Wyoming, Utah and Idaho. PacifiCorp plans to progressively commission 3700 MW of new wind power and add solar and battery storage by 2040. The company’s new Integrated Resource Plan, which was submitted to Wyoming Public Service Commission on September 1, is broadly similar to its previous plan. The Sierra Club and other groups have previously challenged Rocky Mountain Power’s decision to delay the early retirement of its coal plants. (Wyofile)

Regulator blocks permit for coke plant owned by West Virginia Governor: A lawsuit filed by the Jefferson County Health Department in Alabama revealed the agency refused to renew the operating permit for a coking plant operated by Bluestone Coke, a company owned by West Virginia Republican Governor Jim Justice. While a court order has temporarily suspended the decision, the regulators are seeking an injunction to prevent the plant “operating in a manner that is a menace to the public health.” They are also requesting Bluestone Coke be fined up to $25,000 per day for each violation of the state’s air quality standards. They allege the coke ovens, which bake coal to produce coke for use in metallurgical processes, have not been operated to avoid “visible emissions.” (E & E News)


Australia: Government seeks consultant’s report on alternative uses for coal as part of A$20.1 million (US$14.7 million) program.

Australia: Whitehaven Coal declares operating loss of A$87 million (US$63.7 million) and has written down the value of its coal assets by A$456 million (US$334 million).

India: The Central Pollution Control Board has released [Pdf] draft guidelines for the decommissioning of coal power plants.

Russia: Construction work progresses on the Syradasayskoye coal export terminal in the Arctic.

UK: Study finds exposure to air pollution leads to increased severity of mental illness.

US: Ohio legislators request the Inspector General to investigate Governor DeWine's staff who previously worked for FirstEnergy, the utility at the centre of the coal and nuclear bailout scandal.

Vietnam: Power utility EVN has been hit [Vietnamese] with US$750 million extra cost due to higher coal and oil import costs.

Companies + Markets

BNEF says alternatives to be cheaper than fossil fuel-based steel by 2050: Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates steel produced from either hydrogen-based plants or molten oxide electrolysis plants powered by renewables will be cheaper than from conventional coal and gas-based plants by 2050. BNEF estimates the cost of steel produced from hydrogen created by clean energy and used in an electric arc furnace is likely to decline from about US$800 per tonne currently to about US$500 per tonne by 2050. BNEF estimates molten oxide electrolysis is likely to decline from about US$1300 per tonne to about US$550 per tonne by 2050. Coal-fired blast furnace production, which is the current dominant technology, is estimated to produce steel in the range of about US$525–550 by 2050. BNEF estimates existing blast furnaces can reduce carbon emissions by recycling top gas and they may have potential for carbon capture and storage. (Bloomberg, Kobad Bhavnagri [Twitter])

Steel accreditation body plans tick for coal-based plants: ResponsibleSteel – a group backed by some major steel producers, metallurgical coal mining companies and some NGOs – is preparing to launch a steel product certification scheme in 2022 that will accredit steel produced from coal-based blast furnaces and projects reliant on coal power generation. The CEO of US advocacy group Mighty Earth, Glenn Hurowitz, disagreed with this approach arguing the goal should be to eliminate coal and “switch to more sustainable materials.” Mighty Earth is a member of ResponsibleSteel. Caitlin Swalec from Global Energy Monitor, the publisher of CoalWire, said steel should only be accredited as “green” if it is produced from renewable electricity and by a process that produces as close as possible to zero greenhouse gas emissions. (S & P Global)

Coal from proposed UK mine more likely to cater for Turkish demand: A submission by West Cumbria Mining (WCM) to the Planning Inspectorate review of its proposed Whitehaven metallurgical coal mine has identified Turkey as a major potential customer for the project. WCM has promoted coal from the project as having low ash and phosphorus concentrations and likely to be sold to steel mills in the UK and Europe. However, Tata Steel, a major UK steel producer, said samples revealed the coal from the proposed mine has a high sulphur content limiting its attractiveness for plants such as the company’s Port Talbot mill in South Wales. It has been estimated as little as 15 per cent of the 2.7 million tonnes of coal from the proposed mine would be sold to UK customers. (The Times [Paywall])

Adani outlines major coal mining expansion plans: Adani Enterprises, the holding company for Adani subsidiaries, has boasted in a presentation for investors that its mining services division is planning on tripling the volume of minerals mined. The company currently has 40 million tonnes of operating coal mining capacity with a further 55 million tonnes a year under development in India. Adani also has a letter of intent for the development of a part of the Gare-Palma block in Chhattisgarh. The company’s mining operations span the states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Adani’s Australian subsidiary is also pushing ahead with the development of the Carmichael mine which is proposed to produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal a year. On World Environment Day this year Gautum Adani took to Twitter writing “clean, green, affordable energy is what our world, our nation and our next generation need.” (Adani [Pdf])

US bitcoin miner profits from subsidised coal power: Stronghold Digital, a cryptocurrency producer, is benefitting from a late 2020 change to Pennsylvania law requiring electricity utilities to meet their obligations under the state’s “alternative energy” portfolio standard by buying credits generated within the state. The result has been to boost the profitability of power generated from waste coal plants in Pennsylvania. For Stronghold Digital, which says an old waste coal burning plant it bought produces power for US$43 per megawatt hour (MWh), the value of the credits and other tax credits lowers the cost of electricity to US$18 per MWh. Stronghold estimates it can produce bitcoin, which has sold for an average of US$44,000 in 2021, for less than US$3,000 after subsidies. (Bloomberg)

Eskom plans renewables shift as coal costs rise: Eskom’s CEO, Andre de Ruyter, has foreshadowed the utility will apply for another 15 per cent power price increase for 2022 and will aim to limit increases to the inflation rate after that. Eskom reported it lost 18.9 billion rand (US$1.31 billion) in the year to the end of March with electricity sales down by 6.7 per cent due to COVID-19 restrictions. De Ruyter also noted that while Eskom had traditionally consumed lower grade coal not suitable for the export market, this was no longer the case. As a result Eskom is increasingly exposed to international market prices for low-grade thermal coal. This comes as Eskom negotiates with international development banks over a 106 billion rand (US$7.2 billion) loan to build up to 8515 MW of wind and solar energy by 2030. (Moneyweb, Bloomberg, TimesLive)

Asian Development Bank warns Cambodia to rethink coal projects: Two senior Asian Development Bank (ADB) officials have urged Cambodia to “rethink coal power investments” as the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen pushes ahead with plans for four proposed coal plants. The four projects, with a combined capacity of 1630 MW, would more than double the country’s current coal capacity. “Barring contractual obligations of past coal deals, the cost effectiveness of Cambodia’s coal power investments should be seriously reconsidered, especially as more and more investors and manufacturers are shunning coal power, given climate goals and disclosure requirements on socially responsible investors,” the ADB warned. (Asian Development Bank)


Reclaiming Hydrogen for a Renewable Future, Earthjustice, August 2021. (Pdf) (The executive summary is here and infographics are here.)

This 41-page report provides a detailed overview of how hydrogen can be produced and the best uses for it when produced from clean energy.

“The Clean Hydrogen Ladder - v4.0”, LinkedIn, August 15, 2021.

This infographic, along with supporting commentary, provides a concise illustration of the potential end uses of hydrogen in order of merit.

Getting to 30-60: How China’s biggest coal power, cement, and steel corporations are responding to national decarbonization pledges, Columbia University, August 2021. (Pdf) (The executive summary is here.)

This 90-page report provides a detailed analysis for China's heavy industry decarbonisation efforts so far including for the power and steel sectors.