January 31, 2019
Issue 261  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The big news of the last two weeks has been the German coal commission’s plan to exit coal by 2038 at the latest. The immediate effect is likely to mean the cancellation of at least one and possibly two proposed coal plants and a batch of closures over the next three years.

Elsewhere, new coal plant proposals continue to falter. In Japan, a proposal for a new small coal unit to be co-fired with biomass has been switched to 100 per cent biomass. Tokyo Gas has also confirmed that by the end of March it will decide on whether it will drop its plan for a 2000 megawatt (MW) plant. In Canada, the country’s export credit agency has ruled out providing new financial support for thermal coal plants, mines or infrastructure. In India, the commissioning of new renewables capacity has eclipsed the commissioning of new coal units by a big margin.

In South Africa, one of the world’s biggest coal exporters and one of the countries most reliant on coal power generation, mining companies and Eskom are facing big challenges. Nedbank has ruled out supporting two new proposed coal plants, making the projects less likely to proceed. Eskom is facing increased costs for its beleaguered Medupi and Kusile plants as well as growing calls for a major restructure. A coal mining company has been rebuffed from appealing against an adverse court ruling on its proposed mine in a South African protected area.

Bob Burton


What’s happening with Germany’s coal phase-out?

Germany’s coal commission plan to end coal power by 2038 represents progress but much remains to be done to comply with the goals of the Paris Agreement, explains Martin Kaiser from Greenpeace in Unearthed. (Kaiser was one of the environmental group representatives on the commission.)

New renewables boom in India as coal growth withers

While India is rapidly moving its power system away from expensive imported coal and gas power by commissioning new renewables capacity, significant challenges remain, writes Tim Buckley in the Economic Times.

China spends US$36bn on coal-fired power despite emissions goals

China financed more than a quarter of all coal plants announced outside the country last year,  writes Emily Feng in the Financial Times.

Standard Chartered tries to have it both ways on coal

Standard Chartered should be a genuine leader on climate and sustainability rather than try and turn its “no to coal” into a quiet “yes”, writes Julien Vincent from Market Forces in Asia Times.


German commission proposes coal power exit by 2038

The German coal commission has recommended the German Government phase out the use of coal power by 2038 at the latest with a series of reviews which could see the final end date brought forward. The commission recommends the closure of 12,500 MW of coal plants by 2022, comprising 7700 MW of hard coal plants and 5000 MW of lignite plants. It also proposes that no new coal plants be commissioned, which would block the 1100 MW Datteln IV plant from proceeding and potentially Dow Chemical’s proposed 920 MW Stade plant. The commission proposes that a further 25,600 MW of plants close by 2030, comprising 10,900 of lignite plants and 14,700 MW of hard coal plants. This would be consistent with a notional 2 degrees climate trajectory but not with the more stringent Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. The commission proposes a series of reviews of the phase-out date in 2026, 2029 and 2032 by an independent expert group. The commission proposes a 40 billion ($US46 billion) compensation package for coal industry workers, coal mining regions and for the owners of the coal plants. While the commission stated sparing the Hambach forest from mining is “desirable”, it was silent on whether villages threatened with demolition for mine expansions would be spared. (Clean Energy Wire)

Top News

Tokyo Gas signals proposed 2000 MW coal plant may be scrapped: Tokyo Gas’s President and CEO, Takashi Uchida, said the company will decide by the end of March whether it intends to push ahead with the proposed 2000 MW Chiba coal plant. Uchida said if it and its joint venture partners Kyushu Electric Power and Idemitsu Kosan decided against coal, they would propose a LNG-fuelled plant instead. In a separate development, a proposed 112 MW Able Company plant in Iwaki which was to be fuelled by coal with up to 30 per cent biomass has been revised to operate as a biomass-only plant. The change represents the ninth proposed coal unit cancellation or modification in Japan since 2012. (Reuters, Kiko Network)

Canada’s export credit agency drops support for new thermal coal projects: Export Development Canada (EDC), the Canadian Government’s export credit agency, has released a new climate change policy which rules out providing new funding for coal power plants, thermal coal mines or thermal coal-related infrastructure “regardless of geographic location”. Prior to the new policy, EDC supported funding for the modernisation of existing coal plants in lower-income countries. Among earlier projects EDC supported were the expansion in 2010 of the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group’s coal export terminal in New South Wales and the development in 2011 of the troubled Wiggins Island Coal Terminal in Queensland. (Financial Post, Export Development Canada)

South African court rejects coal mining company’s appeal: The North Gauteng High Court has rejected an application by the coal mining company Atha Africa for leave to appeal against the court’s November 2018 decision setting aside permits for the company’s proposed coal mine in the Mabola Protected Environment. In 2016, the former Mineral Resources Minister, Joseph Zwane, and the late Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa, approved, without any public consultation, Atha Africa’s proposed 15-year coal mining plan. The company’s proposal has been referred to the current ministers for reconsideration. (Center for Environmental Rights)

South Korean provincial governor urges coal phase-out: Yang Seung-jo, the Governor of South Chungcheong Province, which has 30 of South Korea’s 61 coal plants, is urging the national government to stop its push to extend the life of old coal plants. Public controversy over high air pollution levels prompted President Moon Jae-in to state that he felt “truly ashamed” that the government had failed to prevent “an unprecedented number of days of dense fine dust.” While Jae-in said there was a need for greater co-operation with China to address regional pollution, a spokesperson for the Chinese Government agreed but pointedly said South Korea should also take more responsibility for reducing its own pollution. (Chosun, Channel NewsAsia)

US regulator bans utility political funding being passed on to consumers: The Michigan Public Service Commission has negotiated an agreement with Consumers Energy in which the utility has committed that it “will not contribute any of its corporate treasury monies” to non-profit political advocacy groups during the current electricity rate case. Consumers Energy is due to file its next rate case in January 2020. Since 2014, Consumers Energy has given US$43.5 million to Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy (CEME), of which US$20 million was donated in 2017. CEME has run campaigns claiming there would be blackouts if Michigan deregulated the electricity market, paid for ads supporting candidates and has promoted energy legislation favoured by the utility. (EnergyNews, Crain’s Detroit Business)

Australian utility halts coal ash sales from two plants: AGL, Australia’s largest power generator, is under investigation after selling coal ash from its Baywater and Liddell power stations that had higher than permitted levels of chromium, cadmium and copper. AGL disclosed that it has suspended the sales of coal ash from the two plants to four other companies, three of which produced concrete products while one used it in “land-based applications” including as bagged potting soil and in landscaping supplies. Environmental Justice Australia said the case highlighted the need for stricter regulation of coal ash sites across the country. (Newcastle Herald, Sydney Morning Herald, AGL)


Australia: BHP ponders appeal against A$82 million (US$59 million) ruling over Singapore coal trading hub deals.

India: German chemicals giant and Adani to undertake feasibility study on 100 per cent renewable-power acrylic plant at Mundra.

US: Peabody Energy pays US$290,000 to settle legal action by two protestors arrested at 2013 shareholders meeting.

US: Industry reveals that coal ash is polluting groundwater at all 16 plants in Texas for which data is available.

Companies + Markets

South African bank backs away from proposed new coal plants: The South African bank Nedbank has confirmed that its offers to support the financing of two proposed new coal plants — the 630 MW Thabametsi and 300 MW Khanyisa coal plants — have expired and will not be renewed. The two proposed coal plants, which are opposed by civil society and environmental groups, were included in a draft Integrated Resource Plan for the electricity sector. In late 2018, StandardBank was reported to have withdrawn its offer of financing as well. In November, the Development Bank of Southern Africa said that their letter of support for the Thabametsi project had expired but declined to rule out support for the projects. FirstRand, which was listed as a potential supporter of the projects, is also yet to rule out involvement in the projects. (EE Publishers)

Ratings agency warns of power sector risks in Indonesia: Fitch Ratings, an economic consultancy, warns that there are potentially significant risks with the estimated US$28 billion of coal projects in pre-construction and construction phases. The consultancy notes that the weakening of the Indonesian rupiah in 2018 increased construction costs and the current account deficit. It warns that “a further depreciation of the rupiah may trigger an actual postponement of key power projects that will consequently slow down growth of the power infrastructure sector.” In September 2018, the government announced that to cut imported construction materials and reduce the current account deficit some power projects would be deferred, though few details have been announced. (The Business Times)

Norwegian fund drops two more coal companies: The Norwegian Government’s Norges Bank has excluded two more companies, the Kansas utility Evergy and the Australian-headquartered Washington H. Soul Pattinson, from their investment portfolio because the companies earned more than 30 per cent of their incomes from thermal coal mining or coal power plants. Evergy currently aims only to reduce its coal generation to 40 per cent by 2020. Washington H. Soul Pattinson has a 50 per cent stake in the New Hope Group, a major coal mining company. At its December 2018 annual general meeting, the CEO of Soul Pattinson argued there was a “long-term need and demand for coal” and later insisted that if shareholders “aren’t happy, they can sell their shares.” (Norges Bank Investment Management, Market Forces)

Repair bill for new Eskom plants climbs: Eskom has revealed that fixing problems with the new 4764 MW Medupi and 4800 MW Kusile coal plants will cost an estimated 2 billion rand (US$146.3 million), up from the 1.5 billion rand (US$109.7 million) the utility’s CEO, Phakamani Hadebe, disclosed in a mid-November 2018 briefing. The two plants, which have long been delayed and are still under construction, are likely to cost over 292 billion rand (US$21.4 billion), almost double the initial estimates. President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said that Eskom is “just too big to fail” and that the government was not “going to allow it to fail.” A government-appointed taskforce is due to report to Ramaphosa by the end of the month on proposals to address Eskom’s financial problems and business strategy. (Bloomberg, Eyewitness News)

Colombia extends Drummond license as Cerrejon challenged in Ireland: The Colombian Government has extended the license for Drummond’s La Loma mine in Cesar Province for a further 20 years. Drummond has long been at the centre of controversy over its export of what human rights and environmental groups have dubbed ‘blood coal’ from mines that grew while paramilitary groups terrorised local communities. Separately, the environment committee of the Irish Parliament has called on government-owned Electricity Supply Board (ESB) to address concerns over their sourcing of coal from the Cerrejon coal mine. ESB sources coal for its Moneypoint power station from CMC Coal Marketing, the Irish-headquartered marketing arm of the Cerrejon Coal Company. Civil society groups have raised concerns that the company, which is jointly owned by BHP, Glencore and Anglo American, has evicted local communities and damaged local water supplies. (Reuters, Irish Examiner)

South African exports fell in 2018: Coal exports from the Richards Bay Coal Terminal, South Africa’s main coal export terminal, fell by about four per cent in 2018 compared to the year before. The total volume exported was 73.5 million tonnes, well below the terminal’s rated annual capacity of 91 million tonnes. The consortium of mining companies that owns the terminal had been aiming to export 77 million tonnes in 2018 and has set the same target for 2019. However, South Africa’s largest coal markets — Europe, India, Pakistan and South Korea — are all looking to reduce reliance on coal power. (Bloomberg, Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis)


Stanari: The other side of the story…, Center for Environment, January 2019.

This six-minute video documents problems villagers have encountered with pollution from the Stanari mine in Bosnia and Herzogovina.

“Analysis: How far would Germany’s 2038 coal phaseout breach Paris climate goals?”, CarbonBrief, January 29, 2019.

This provides a good summary of recommendations of Germany’s coal commission.