January 12, 2017
Issue 165  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

2017 has barely begun yet around the world millions of people are grappling with major pollution events caused by coal power plants and other forms of coal burning. For days, Beijing and nearby cities were cloaked in a pall of toxic pollution which prompted authorities to promise to install air filtration systems in schools. In December the Polish city of Skala exceeded even Beijing’s pollution levels. Elsewhere air and water pollution from coal ash dumps has triggered a public backlash in the Philippines and Australia. In the US a study has revealed coal ash ponds at a closed coal plant in Virginia are stored almost two metres below sea level and vulnerable to storm surges and flooding.

Despite these grim events there has been some good news. In the US a Washington state agency has refused to approve a vital lease for the proposed Longview coal terminal while the latest power generation statistics reveal the dramatic dethroning of King Coal in Britain.

Bob Burton


China’s new power plan boosts renewables and poses more challenges for coal

While targets for renewables in China’s recently-released national energy sector plan are likely to be exceeded, as they were in 2016, challenges remain in ensuring priority access to the grid for wind and solar energy, writes Lauri Myllyvirta in EnergyDesk.

The year coal collapsed: 2016 was a turning point for Britain’s electricity

In 2016 Britain’s electricity became the cleanest it had been in 60 years, as coal power collapsed and renewable power generation rose to record levels, write Grant Wilson from the University of Sheffield and Iain Staffell from Imperial College London in The Conversation.


Washington state refuses lease for Columbia River coal terminal

Washington State’s retiring Commissioner of Public Lands, Peter Goldmark, has ruled out sub-leasing state-owned aquatic lands to Millennium Bulk Terminals for its proposed 44 million tonnes a year coal export terminal on the Columbia River. Goldmark cited “a chronic pattern of failure by the company to provide essential and accurate information.” He also announced the addition of 18 hectares to the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve near Bellingham, which had been requested by the Lummi Indian Business Council which opposes the use of the site for the proposed Longview coal export terminal. The announcements have been welcomed by tribal and environmental groups. (The News & Observer, Department of Natural Resources)

Top News

Air pollution disasters in Poland, China: In December the Polish city of Skala recorded air pollution levels 20 times higher than European Union limits and had worse air quality than Beijing. In 2016 Poland had 33 of Europe’s 50 most polluted cities, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). In Beijing, three weeks of heavy smog prompted public protests at its effect on children, forcing government authorities to vow to install air filtration systems in schools. Despite cuts to nearby coal plant capacity the smog was rated as the longest run of days in 15 years with PM2.5 air pollution above 200 micrograms per cubic metre. The WHO recommended limit is 25 micrograms per cubic metre over a 24-hour period. (Financial Times [paywall], Washington Post)

Public alarm at coal ash pollution in Philippines and Australia:  The San Miguel Consolidated Power Corporation (SMC) has been ordered to clean up bottom ash polluting the coastline near the 150 MW coal plant it operates at a major oil refinery and petrochemical complex. SMC is also currently constructing a 600 MW plant at Limay in Bataan province. In South Australia strong summer winds have blown coal ash across the city of Port Augusta from the 250 hectare disposal site at the recently closed Flinders Power station, prompting community protests. (InterAksyon, ABC News)

Virginia coal ash dumps vulnerable to sea level rise: A report by the Western Carolina University and commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center has found that almost 3 million tonnes of coal ash stored at the closed Chesapeake Energy Center site in Virginia is “highly vulnerable to coastal hazards, including flooding, storm surge, erosion and sea level rise.” The coal ash is buried almost 2 metres below sea level. Dominion Virginia Power is being sued by the Sierra Club which is seeking the removal of the coal ash and disposal at a more secure inland site. (The Virginian-Pilot, Western Carolina University)

Vietnamese Ministry rejects coal plant bid to clear protected areas: The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development recently rejected a provincial government proposal to clear 1000 hectares of the Hon Cau Marine Protected Area to make room for the expansion of the controversial 6224 megawatt (MW) Vinh Tan Power Complex. (Vietnamnet)

Villagers resist water grab for Pakistan coal plant: A hunger strike by villagers entered its third month in protest against the clearing of thousands of trees and the environmental and social impacts of a proposed 600 hectare Thar coal project’s wastewater storage plan. The proposed dam has alarmed tribal groups concerned about the impact on groundwater resources and the dispossession of villagers from their lands without adequate compensation. (Dawn, Dawn)

Legal challenge to Indonesian coal plant begins: A legal challenge has commenced against a decision by the West Java provincial government to grant an environment permit for the proposed 1000 MW expansion of the Cirebon plant. Lawyers for six individuals argue the proposed plant and associated infrastructure are proposed in an area zoned for fishermen and shrimp farmers which have already been adversely affected by the operation of the existing 660 MW Cirebon plant. (Wahli)


India: Court approves charges against Himachal EMTA Power, three company directors and a government official over allocation of Gourangdih ABC coal block in West Bengal.

Germany: Lignite and black coal power production fell in 2016 by 0.8 and 1.2 per cent respectively.

Russia: Coal production grew by over nine per cent in 2016 to 384 million tonnes; exports up by 16.4 per cent to 163.6 million tonnes.

US: CCS unit to capture 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year commissioned to boost oil production in Texas oilfield.

US: Bowie Resource Partners abandons plan for coal gasification for power and diesel at Colorado mine.

US: Regulator blocks Hawaiian Electric Company from buying extra coal power from AES’s coal plant.

Companies + Markets

Societe Generale drops Indonesian coal plant: Societe Generale, a major French bank, has confirmed to Friends of the Earth France that it will not finance the proposed 2140 MW expansion of Tanjung Jati B-2 coal plant in Central Java in Indonesia. In 2015 another French bank, BNP Paribas, withdrew from involvement in the project. Credit Agricole remains the last French bank supporting the project while the Sumitomo-led consortium has also attracted support of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. (Mongabay, CoalSwarm)

Solar may outshine coal on price by 2025: While solar power is already cheaper than coal power in some parts of the world, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates it is on track to be cheaper globally by 2025. “Every time you double capacity, you reduce the price by 20 percent,” said Adnan Amin from the International Renewable Energy Agency. A BNEF chart suggests wind power will be cheaper than coal globally before 2020. (Bloomberg)

US CCS plant costs climb, accident averted: Mississippi Power has announced the cost of the 582 MW Kemper Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project has increased by a further US$52 million and is now estimated to cost over US$7 billion. The company has warned costs will increase if the plant is not commissioned by January 31. A report filed with the Mississippi Public Service Commission in December revealed a raft of commissioning problems with the plant including an incident when hot syngas backed up into the coal feed system. A former plant manager turned whistleblower argues the problem could have caused a major explosion at the plant. (CNBC, Mississippi Watchdog)

Australian Government forecasts met coal plateau, thermal coal falls: The Australian Government’s resources agency estimates the global seaborne trade in metallurgical coal will plateau at around 313 million tonnes in 2018. The agency estimates the seaborne trade of thermal coal will decline in 2017 by 0.9 per cent to 1.02 billion tonnes due to lower imports from China and India before recovering lost ground in 2018. The agency estimates the benchmark metallurgical coal price could drop from the US$285 a tonne negotiated in December for the March 2017 quarter to US$109 a tonne in 2018. The agency estimates thermal export prices for the Japan 2017-2018 financial year to be around US$75 per tonne but to decline to US$67 a tonne the following year. (Australian Department of Industry, Innovation and Science)

Indian agencies investigate Adani: Adani Enterprises, the ultimate parent company of the proposed Carmichael mine in Australia, is one of the coal companies under investigation by India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) for inflating the cost of imported coal. For a decade the DRI has been investigating Adani entities which traded in diamonds and gold jewellery. Adani Enterprises was named in a 2011 report by Karnataka’s state ombudsman in which documents seized by police allegedly “indicate that money has been regularly paid to port authorities, customs authorities, police department, mines and geology and even to MLAs/MPs.” Adani has rejected the allegations. (ABC News, Scroll)

Russian coal railway upgrade planned to match increased port capacity: The Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation has directed the railway servicing the Vostochny coal port be upgraded to cater for a further 20 million tonnes of coal a year by 2019. Vostochny is in Russia’s Far East with exports catering for the Asia-Pacific market. The commissioning of the Stage III expansion of Vostochny Port’s coal terminal is scheduled to begin in May 2017 to increase the capacity of the port to 39 million tonnes a year. The port exported 23 million tonnes of coal in 2016. (Port News, Port News)