July 29, 2021
Issue 379  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

With utilities in Thailand and the Philippines axing more projects, the economics of new coal power projects are now so poor they are falling by the wayside in markets coal exporters were counting on. Japan’s proposed cuts to coal generation could also dramatically reshape the global seaborne thermal coal market. This comes as the incoming president of the G20 is hoping to get agreement on a coal power phase-out ahead of the climate negotiations in Glasgow in November.

Meanwhile, the head of the global coal industry lobby group has lamented that “brand coal” has been “destroyed”. There are many reasons the coal industry is on the nose but perhaps the starkest one is the endless list of scandals. In the US, FirstEnergy will pay US$230 million as part of a settlement agreement for its role in the Ohio scandal where legislation was passed to bail out nuclear and coal plants. In Russia, a newspaper has been shut down after simply reporting on pollution caused by the collapse of a coal waste dump.

A report by the Inspector-General of the US government-owned utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), has also shed light on the array of occupational health risks facing workers in coal power plants. It also reveals how the TVA has managed the risks poorly.

Bob Burton


India’s villages left parched by coal mining

Coal mining in Jharkhand state in India has sucked out much of the water from once-plentiful sources forcing villagers to rely on ever deeper wells, writes Roli Srivastava in Reuters.

China remains largest backer of countries with the largest project pipelines

A review of countries with large number of coal projects reveals a majority of these proposals are being supported by China, writes Simon Nicholas from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.


Thailand abandons two proposed coal plants

After almost a decade of community opposition the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has finally abandoned plans for the proposed 870 megawatt (MW) Krabi plant and the 2200 MW Thepa coal plant and two associated coal import terminals. Both projects were strongly resisted by the local communities. In July 2015, the governor of Songkhla province ordered 1500 troops and police to block a protest against the Thepa plant. In February 2017, hundreds of people protested in front of the Thai Government House against a decision by the military regime to proceed with the plants, leading the regime to agree to undertake a fresh environmental assessment with proper public consultation. Opponents of the projects argued EGAT should support the development of renewables. However, EGAT is now proposing a 1400 MW gas plant and an LNG import terminal. (Bangkok Post, Global Energy Monitor, Global Energy Monitor)

Philippines utility confirms end of more coal projects

San Miguel Corporation (SMC) has confirmed it has dropped plans for three coal plant projects with a combined capacity of 1200 MW. In a July 1 letter to the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development, the Philippines Department of Energy stated it had dropped the 300 MW expansion of the Malita plant, the proposed 600 MW Merbau plant and the 300 MW Ozamiz plants from its list of potential projects “due to non-submission of the required monthly power project updates”. SMC has now confirmed it has abandoned the projects. The company also opted not to proceed with Central Luzon Premiere Power Corporation’s 1340 MW coal project and Lumiere Energy Technologies 710 MW station in Pagbilao, Quezon. (Manila Standard)

Top News

G20 divided over push to phase out coal power: Environment ministers from the Group of 20 (G20) nations remain divided over setting an end date for coal power. Italy and the UK pushed for a 2030 coal end date but this was opposed by Russia, India, China and other countries. The President of the G20 stated that “despite a prolonged and tireless discussion” to set a date to phase out coal and end international public coal” a consensus view could not be reached. The failure to agree on an end date raises doubt about how far the COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow in November will progress if agreement cannot be reached on the issue. The G20 group of countries will meet again ahead of the COP26 conference. The G20 countries account for about 80 per cent of global greenhouse emissions. (BloombergQuint, G20 [Pdf])

Chinese coal-to-chemicals plant suspended: Chinese news websites have reported that the construction of a major coal-to-chemical plant in Yulin by Shaanxi Coal and Chemical Industry Group has been “halted temporarily”. The reports suggested the suspension of the project, which has been under construction for two years, is related to the amount of energy required for the operation of the plant. (Carbon Brief, Caixin, 21st Century Business Herald [Chinese])

US utility pays $230 million fine over role in Ohio scandal: FirstEnergy agreed to pay US$230 million as part of an agreement to suspend charges by federal prosecutors arising from the Department of Justice investigation into a $61 million campaign to pass legislation in Ohio to bail out nuclear and coal plants. As part of its settlement FirstEnergy acknowledged it paid millions of dollars to Generation Now, a group formed by former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder to receive funds from FirstEnergy. In January 2019, FirstEnergy also paid US$4.3 million to the former chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), Sam Randazzo. After a meeting at which the payment was discussed FirstEnergy worked “directly to advance the appointment” of Randazzo as chairman of PUCO. The agreement stated FirstEnergy supported Randazzo in order to “further FirstEnergy Corp.’s interests in that role through official action.” According to prosecutors, Randazzo helped ensure the bailout legislation passed. (Energy Wire, Department of Justice, Department of Justice)

Russian newspaper closed after reporting on coal waste dump pollution: Uglegorskiye Novosti, the newspaper serving the Sakhalin Island port town of Shakhtersk in Russia's Far East, has been suspended after reporting on the impacts of the collapse of a coal dump at Eastern Mining Company (VGK)'s Solntsevsky mine. On July 14, two executives from VGK turned up at the newspaper’s office demanding to discuss coverage of the company’s operations. Later that day the newspaper’s editor was sacked by the local mayor and, when he returned to the paper’s office, the electricity had been shut off. The newspaper, which is still reporting via its Telegram account, documented how the collapse of the dump at the mine had blocked the Zhyoltaya River. (Radio Free Europe, Global Energy Monitor)

After floods, German state leader calls for faster coal exit: The Premier of Bavaria, Markus Soder from the conservative political party CSU, has called for the renegotiation of Germany’s 2038 coal phase-out after the September 2021 federal election. Soder, who unsuccessfully sought to be selected as the candidate from the centre-right CDU/CSU coalition to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel, said coal should be phased out by 2030. While Bavaria is not a coal state, the CDU/CSU’s candidate for Chancellor, Armin Laschet, is currently premier of the major coal producing state of North-Rhine Westphalia and has supported a delayed coal exit. A recent poll of voters suggested just 26 per cent thought Laschet would provide effective climate protection policies. (CleanEnergyWire, The Local)

Auditor finds US public utility failed to protect worker safety: The Inspector-General of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a US government-owned utility, has found the power generator failed to document the risks to staff health and safety from a wide range of hazards including extreme heat, radiation and chemical hazards used at its coal plants. The Inspector-General found the TVA did not monitor safety risks at retiring plants, failed to monitor mercury at any plant and did not properly manage elevated silica dust levels. The report found some staff with documented silica exposure had not been placed under medical surveillance and two had not even been informed about their exposure. The Inspector-General found one TVA employee had responsibility to monitor safety standards at 50 coal, gas and hydro and three nuclear plants. (WPLN, TVA Office of the Inspector-General [Pdf])

 “We don’t just have a communication problem – it’s more serious than that. We have a brand problem, and our ‘brand coal’ has been destroyed,”

said Michelle Manook, CEO of the World Coal Association.

“We don’t just have a communication problem – it’s more serious than that. We have a brand problem, and our ‘brand #coal’ has been destroyed,” said Michelle Manook, CEO of the World Coal Association. #lignite


China: No coal projects were financed through the Belt and Road Initiative in the first half of 2021.

Czech Republic: Power utility CEZ pitches to locate a gigafactory for electric car batteries at the Prunerov lignite plant, where four old units have been retired.

US: Drone footage reveals coal spilled into James River in Virginia after the derailment of 13 wagons in a CSX train.

US: A Norfolk Southern coal train derailed in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.

“It's tough finding people who want to enter the coal business right now, in large part because of all the news headlines, I believe … Our key issue is just trying to [assure] our employees and any prospective employees that they've got a future in the coal industry for the next 20 years,”

said Joe Craft, the President and CEO of US coal mining company Alliance Resource Partners.

Companies + Markets

Japan’s energy mix change will hit Pacific coal exporters: The draft basic energy plan released by Japan’s powerful Ministry of Trade and Industry (METI) could result in a fall in thermal coal imports of about 53.8 million tonnes by 2030–31 compared to 2019–20 imports. METI has proposed thermal generation – which is mostly from coal plants – would decline to 41 per cent by 2030–31. In 2019–20 thermal generation made up 76 per cent of total generation. Japan currently sources most of its thermal coal from Australia with small shares coming from Indonesia and Russia. An Argus analysis suggests that by 2031 Japan’s solar capacity would need to increase by 48,700 MW and wind by 16,000 to 26,000 MW to meet the proposed targets. METI’s draft targets also assume the gradual recommissioning of some nuclear plants shut down in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. (Argus)

Indonesia touts increased biomass to cut coal burning: A director of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, Chrisnawan Anditya, said the burning of biomass in coal plants will be made mandatory as a measure to reduce the country’s power sector coal consumption. Chrisnawan said the government is currently drafting a regulation that would apply to the government-owned utility PLN as well as independent power producers. PLN estimates biomass co-firing at its largest 52 coal units could reduce coal consumption by 9 million tonnes per year. PLN first began trialling co-firing at its coal plants in 2018. However, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis has doubts about the economic viability of using waste from the palm oil industry given palm kernel shells are currently exported to Japan and Korea for more than double the cost of coal. (Reuters, PwC)

Analyst tips seaborne thermal coal prices to decline from late 2021: The ratings agency Fitch Solutions estimates thermal coal prices in the seaborne market will decline for the rest of 2021, in part due to decreasing electricity demand in parts of China as air conditioning loads decline with cooler weather. China’s National Development and Reform Commission said a further 10 million tonnes of coal would be released from stockpiles to boost domestic supplies to help ease domestic power prices. Fitch also expects idled mine production capacity is likely to restart. Fitch’s estimates imply a price of US$82 per tonne for the rest of 2021 and project an average price of US$60 per tonne between 2022 and 2030. (Mining Weekly)

Early retirement would save Indian distribution companies billions: A study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) estimates distribution utilities could save up to 90 billion rupees per year (US$1.23 billion per year) if the operation of coal plants was prioritised based on their efficiency. Current coal plants’ dispatch order is determined by their variable costs. CEEW based its estimate on an investigation of the performance of 194,000 MW of India’s coal plants. CEEW estimates the early retirement of 30,000 MW of coal pants and the mothballing of 20,000 MW of newer plants could reduce coal consumption by 42 million tonnes a year. A separate CEEW study estimates the retirement of coal plants over 25 years old would result in annual savings of 75 billion rupees (US$1.03 billion) over the next five years and 377 billion rupees (US$5.2 billion) over the plants' remaining life. (Business Standard, Council on Energy, Environment and Water)

Biggest Australian utility burns shareholder wealth: A report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis estimates Australia’s largest greenhouse gas polluter, AGL Energy, has seen A$12 billion (US$8.8 billion) or 70 per cent of its market value destroyed in four years. Over the last 18 months AGL’s worth has plummeted by 55 per cent while the Standard & Poors/Australian Stock Exchange 200 index has increased by almost 50 per cent. The report argues that instead of investing early in renewables, after 2012 AGL Energy bought old and inflexible coal plants which are now struggling to compete against renewables. AGL owns and operates three large coal plants: the 2210 MW brown coal Loy Yang plant in Victoria, the 2640 MW Bayswater plant and the 1680 MW Liddell plant in New South Wales. (Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis)

Call for South Africa to abandon proposed coal plants: A report by Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies, a non-profit economic research group, has called on the South African Government to abandon plans for any further coal projects as they would be uncompetitive at a time of massive upheaval in the country’s energy industry. South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan of 2019 included provision for 1500 MW of new coal plants. Two projects, the 600 MW Khanyisa and the 630 MW Thabametsi plants, are all but dead after legal defeats and the loss of key backers. The report also calls for the government to rule out the 3500 MW coal plant proposed for the Musina Makhado Special Economic Zone in Limpopo. Instead, it argues the government should relax regulatory limits on investment in renewables and storage capacity and encourage the aluminium and ferroalloy refineries and Sasol to protect their competitive position in export markets by shifting to clean energy. (Mining Weekly, Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies)

Report warns Australian coal jobs to plummet in next two decades: A report for The Investor Group on Climate Change, a coalition of institutional investors, has warned that 66 per cent of the existing workforce in Australia’s fossil fuel communities will need to transition to another industry sector per decade from 2020 to 2040. The report argues that if a transition is deferred until after 2030, three-quarters of the existing workforce will have to transition to other industries per decade between 2030 and 2050. The report focussed on the coal regions of the Bowen-Surat Basin in Queensland, the Hunter Valley in NSW, the Gippsland Basin in Victoria and the oil and gas/iron ore producing Pilbara in Western Australia. (Business Insider, Investor Group on Climate Change [Pdf])


Coal Power’s Trilemma: Variable Cost, Efficiency and Financial Solvency, Council on Energy, Environment and Water, July 2021. (Pdf) (The dataset used in the report is here.)

This 58-page report examines the underutilisation of existing coal plants and recommends the retirement of up to 30,000 MW of old, less-efficient coal plants.

The coal value chain in South Africa, Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies, July 2021. (Pdf)

This 63-page report argues the South African government will need to provide significant support to ensure a smooth transition away from coal for affected workers and communities.