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May 2, 2024
Issue 512  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire
Published by Global Energy Monitor

Editor's Note

The US Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled four significant regulatory rules to cut pollution from coal and gas plants. The combined effect of the new regulations could profoundly accelerate the transition away from coal. Aside from potential legal challenges by industry groups, the most significant risk to the rules is if former Republican President Donald Trump is re-elected later this year. In his last term in government, Trump undid many of the power sector reforms introduced by Democrat President Obama. As one journalist has noted, as coal generation declines, so do the political connections that propped the industry up for so long.

The communique from the G7 summit in Italy reflects the slow incremental shift of the world’s wealthiest countries away from coal power. While the headline announcement of a 2030-2035 end date for coal generation has garnered much media coverage, the devil is in the details. Leading analysts, including the International Energy Agency, insist that OECD countries end the use of coal power by 2030 to stay on track with the goals of the Paris Agreement. While the mention of the 2030-2035 end date is minor progress for the G7, a significant loophole added to cater for Germany and Japan undercuts the headline goal. The Japanese government has shown no intention of setting an end date for its fleet of coal plants. The latest details of Japan’s proposed subsidy scheme for hydrogen and ammonia indicate the government is likely to heavily subsidise ammonia co-firing of coal plants, the most expensive option for cutting power sector emissions.

Bob Burton

Features

Coal’s future dims in the US as new regulations pile on and former defenders retreat

Coal, the fading powerhouse of the US electricity system, is about to see its fortunes turn even darker, writes Alex Guillen in Politico.

Alabama coal mine keeps digging under a rural community after a fatal explosion

Residents in the town of Adger fear for their safety after an explosion that obliterated a house killed one man and seriously injured another. A lawsuit alleges methane leaks from an underground coal mine caused the explosion, write Lee Hedgepeth and James Bruggers in Inside Climate News.

Here are the 32 coal plants still powering the American West

Western US states and power companies may claim to be moving to 100 per cent clean energy, but some of the electricity served to customers may still come from a fleet of plants in states such as Arizona, Utah and Wyoming, writes Sammy Roth in the Los Angeles Times

Campaigns

US government sets new standards for existing coal plants

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a final rule that requires steep carbon emissions reductions for existing coal units planning to operate beyond January 1, 2039. The rule requires these plants to use carbon capture and storage technology to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90 per cent by January 1, 2032. The rule requires existing coal plants slated to close by 2039 to comply with an emission standard equal to 40 per cent co-firing with gas by January 1, 2030. Existing coal plants scheduled to retire by 2032 are not required to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA also revised the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to cut allowable mercury emissions from lignite plants by 70 per cent and a 67 reduction in allowable metal emissions from all coal plants. Another rule tightens wastewater discharge standards, including water from flue gas desulfurisation units and coal ash ponds. The fourth rule updates the Coal Combustion Residuals rule to regulate older coal ash landfills and establishes new standards for the management of coal ash for plants that will retire by 2034. (AP, Environmental Protection Agency, Earthjustice)

Top News

G7 ministers back coal power phase-out by 2030-2035, with a big caveat: The meeting of energy ministers from G7 countries in Turin, Italy, has agreed to phase out unabated coal power in the 2030-2035 “or in a timeline consistent with keeping a limit of 1.5°C temperature rise within reach, in line with countries’ net-zero pathways”. The G7 added the loophole to win support from Germany and Japan. Germany’s current legislated coal end date is 2038, while Japan has not set a closure deadline for its coal fleet. Japan has previously emphasised technological changes to cut greenhouse gas emissions from its power sector, including carbon capture and storage (CCS) and co-firing coal plants with hydrogen, ammonia and biomass. The G7 communique mentions the need to reduce emissions from steel and other industrial sectors and promotes CCS and carbon dioxide removal as options. Amnesty International criticised the 2035 deadline for phasing out coal power as “too late” and noted the lack of limits on coal use in steel production. The G7 includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the US and the European Union. The G7 has gradually toughened its stance on coal power since 2021 when it backed ending public finance for unabated coal plants. The following year, the G7 agreed to phase out unabated coal plants by 2035 and last year backed an end to the construction of new coal power plants domestically. (Climate Home News, CNN, Amnesty International, G7 [Pdf])

Two activists on coal issues winners of Goldman Environmental Prize: Two leading opponents of damaging coal projects – Alok Shukla from India and Murrawah Johnson from Australia – are winners of the 2024 Goldman Environmental Prize for environmental activism. Shukla, the convener of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, has campaigned to protect the Hasdeo Aranya forests in Chhattisgarh state from coal mining and succeeded in persuading the state government to cancel 21 coal blocks. Murrawah Johnson, a Wirdi woman from the Birri Gubba Nation, was a spokesperson for youth in the campaign against Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in Queensland and is now co-director of Youth Verdict, an NGO group that won a landmark legal case blocking the development of the Waratah coal mine proposed by billionaire Clive Palmer. Youth Verdict successfully argued that emissions from burning the coal from the mine Human Rights Act, successfully arguing that the emissions from burning the coal would limit the rights of First Nations people. (Hindustan Times, Goldman Environmental Prize,  Guardian, Goldman Environmental Prize)

Alberta set to appeal court order to disclose coal policy documents: Alberta Energy, the government agency with oversight of mining and energy policy, plans to appeal against part of a decision by Justice Kent Teskey on the disclosure of thousands of documents on the United Conservative Party government decision to overturn a ban on coal mining on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Teskey ordered Alberta Energy to provide 6500 documents on the policy backflip to a group of southern Alberta ranchers. Before the court ruling, Alberta released 1353 documents, but the contents of many were either entirely or partially redacted. New Democrat Opposition Leader Rachel Notley suggested the agency’s opposition to full disclosure could be because of “inappropriate conversations between lobbyists and representatives of certain coal companies and political staff and ministers, trying to cut a deal”. (CBC, Lakeland Today)

Welsh council ducks inquiry into lack of rehabilitation of shuttered mine: The operations director of the Coal Authority, Carl Banton, told the climate change environment and infrastructure committee of the Senedd, the Welsh parliament, that an assessment of the Ffos y Fran open cut coal mine is needed to make sure the site is safe. When the mine was approved in 2007, the company and regulators said the pit would be backfilled with mine waste and rehabilitated once mining ended. However, since mining ceased in November 2023, no rehabilitation work has been undertaken, and the void is filling with water. The Welsh Local Government Association and Merthyr Tydfil council both declined to give evidence to the committee. In a written statement to the committee, Merthyr Tydfil council said it has only £15 million (US$18.8 million) in an escrow account for the rehabilitation of the site. Estimates for the proper rehabilitation of the site are between £120 million (US$151 million) and £175 million (US$220 million). The mine operator, Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd, has said it has “insufficient funds” to undertake the original restoration plan. Coal Action Network said it is the responsibility of the Welsh parliament to ensure the implementation of the original rehabilitation plan. (BBC, Wales Online)

News

Colombia: Drug cartels are disguising cocaine as lumps of coal to export shipments in the holds of bulk carriers.

Malaysia: Sarawak Premier Abang Johari said that he wants Sarawak Energy Berhad to convert the 200 MW Sejinkat and 600 MW Balingian coal plants to run on biomass. Sarawak is renowned as a global hotspot for deforestation.

Morocco: French energy company Engie intends to sell its 33 per cent stake in the 1386 megawatt (MW) Safi coal plant by 2027. The plant was commissioned in 2018.

South Africa: Judgment was reserved on a legal challenge against a decision to allow Uthaka Energy to build the proposed Yzermyn coal mine in the Mabola Protected Area.

UK: Police arrested four people protesting against the Conservative government’s approval of a new Cumbria coal mine.

US: Signal Peak Energy has launched legal action against the Bureau of Land Management to accelerate the finalisation of an environmental impact assessment of new federal coal leases. The BLM said it has eight more months to complete the evaluation.

Companies + Markets

Minor lift in the role of renewables in the draft Indonesian power plan: A new draft Indonesian power plan for 2024 -2033 proposes a marginal increase in renewable capacity to 70.64 per cent of new generation, up from a 68 per cent share in the November 2023 version of the plan. The latest draft proposes 33,200 MW of new renewable capacity, with the balance of the 47,000 MW target from coal and gas generation. The draft plan identifies 28.72 per cent of new capacity from hydro projects with a 28.09 per cent share from wind and solar projects. The 2021-2030 power plan by PLN, the state-owned power utility, proposed new renewables accounting for 51 per cent of 40,500 MW of extra generation capacity. Putra Adhiguna from Energy Shift Institute, an energy think tank, said increasing the share of renewables requires addressing the overcapacity problem and ensuring a reasonable tariff for renewables. (Jakarta Post)

NGO says ADB loan to Indonesia failed to exclude coal support: A report by four NGOs has criticised the Asian Development Bank for providing a US$600 million untied loan in December 2021 to Indonesia’s publicly-owned power utility, PLN. The ADB said the loan was to support a suite of measures to promote clean energy and strengthen the management of the Java grid. Inclusive Development International (IDI) argues that the loan effectively provides support for all the elements in PLN’s 10-year business plan, which includes a dozen coal plants, including two new 1000 MW units at the 4025 MW Suralaya plant. IDI notes the loan agreement does not contain any exclusion for supporting coal. Daniel Willis from the NGO Recourse said institutions such as the ADB must “include robust coal exclusions in contracts”. The report was released ahead of the ADB’s annual meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia. At the May 2023 annual meeting, the ADB renewed the bank’s pledge to stop financing new coal plants, support renewables and back the early retirement of existing coal plants. (Jakarta Post, Inclusive Development International)

Bulgarian parliamentary delay will stall transition funding: Protests by Bulgaria’s coal miners and coal plant workers succeeded in delaying parliamentary debate and a vote on the country’s proposed climate neutrality roadmap. Mine and power station workers oppose the liberalisation of the country’s electricity market. In the absence of the finalisation of the roadmap and the associated Recovery and Sustainability Plan, the European Union will delay the payment of up to €4.4 billion (US$4.7 billion). Parliament voted in favour of providing a €500 million (US$533 million) subsidy for the state-owned Maritsa Iztok lignite mine that supplies the three adjoining Maritsa Iztok power stations. In the wake of a disagreement between the two parties that formed a coalition government, a general election will be held on June 9. The conservative Gerb party, one of the former governing parties, proposed the subsidy for the Maritsa Iztok mine and is expected to win the largest share of the vote at the election. Miners and power station workers have called for subsidies for the construction of a carbon capture and storage (CCS) unit at the 1602 MW Maritsa-Iztok 2 plant. A spokesperson for the workers’ coalition said a CCS unit would “make the plant competitive on the electricity market and prevent its closure”. (Financial Times, Euractiv)

Heavy rains in southern China likely to crimp coal growth in 2024: Chinese thermal generation – mostly from coal – was up seven per cent in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same period the year before. However, heavy rainfall in southern Chinese provinces in April is likely to result in a significant increase in hydro generation from May, bolstered by monsoonal rains later in the year. Hydro generation has been low over the last two years due to a prolonged drought across southern provinces. The drought, combined with increasing demand, has resulted in a rapid increase in coal generation despite the massive increase in solar and wind installations. Since 2021, China’s solar generation capacity has doubled and, combined with increased hydro generation, is likely to slow the increase in coal generation this year. (Reuters)

Japan plans a subsidy scheme for ammonia co-firing at coal plants: A senior Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (MITI) advisor told an industry conference that a proposed Contract for Difference subsidy scheme for clean hydrogen will set two reference prices. MITI will set a benchmark price for hydrogen produced from gas. The agency will also specify another benchmark price for ammonia, with the subsidy paid on the gap between the reference coal or gas price and the cost of ammonia. In December last year, the government announced its intention to spend three trillion yen (US$19.2 billion) to subsidise clean hydrogen to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Analysts interpret the commitment to set a reference price for coal as an indication that the subsidy will promote ammonia co-firing with coal at existing coal plants, an approach viewed as the most expensive option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The price gap between coal and ammonia is likely to be much higher than that of hydrogen produced from gas. The debate comes as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida grapples with the political fallout of a corruption scandal that has triggered a collapse in public support for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The LDP lost three by-elections held last weekend, including one electorate considered a LDP stronghold. The next general election is not due until October 2025. (Hydrogen Insight, The Japan Times)

Green Steel Transition

BHP’s takeover bid for Anglo American would boost its met coal capacity: BHP’s proposed US$40 billion takeover bid for Anglo American, the world’s third largest metallurgical coal exporter, would increase the company’s metallurgical coal mining capacity with the addition of five operating mines in Queensland. In 2023, Anglo American’s metallurgical coal mines – Moranbah North, Grosvenor, Dawson, Capcoal and Aquila – produced 16 million tonnes. BHP expects to produce about 22 million tonnes of metallurgical coal from its Queensland mines in 2024. While BHP’s primary motivation for the takeover bid is Anglo’s copper projects in Peru and Chile, the company also touted a benefit of the takeover bid as giving the company a “leading portfolio of large, low-cost, long-life Tier 1 assets focused on iron ore and metallurgical coal”. The Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis notes that an effect of the takeover could be the end of Anglo American’s ambitious target of cutting its Scope 3 emissions from burning coal by 50 per cent by 2040. BHP currently does not have a specific Scope 3 emissions target other than a goal of net zero by 2050. (BHP [Pdf], Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis)

Resources

“Elections 2024: What the major political parties say about renewable energy”, GroundUp, April 26, 2024.

This article collates the responses of South Africa’s major political parties’ positions on support for increased renewable power generation. South Africa’s general election will be held on May 29, 2024.