February 9, 2017
Issue 169  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The connection between high levels of air pollution and poor health has been known for ages. However, in the wake of widespread extreme air pollution in recent months India’s Minister for the Environment is now seeking to dispute any direct connection. The reason? Acknowledging the connection – which Greenpeace India estimates causes 1.2 million premature deaths a year – would bolster the argument for national action, including cutting emissions from coal power plants. The Polish Government – which is doing everything it can to increase coal consumption – has taken a different tack: suppressing data and not alerting the public until air pollution is over six times higher than the recommended European Union level.

US data released this week reveals dramatic reductions in air pollution can occur fast. Sulphur dioxide emissions from US power plants fell by almost three-quarters over a decade and just over a quarter between 2014 and 2015. Retiring coal plants or using them less, and installing pollution control equipment, were all major factors.

Bob Burton


In response to pollution complaints, a coal plant in Indonesia offered soap and mops

Pollution from a 630 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant in East Java has destroyed plans for tourism developments while the company’s response to complaints from residents was to supply soap and mops to clean up coal dust, writes Isabel Esterman in Mongabay.

China-backed projects won’t solve Pakistan’s energy challenges

The Chinese-backed China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which includes a raft of coal projects, has been pursued with little attention to economic viability or environmental concerns and will not solve the long-term issues plaguing the energy sector, warns Tilak Devasher, a former Indian Government adviser, in the Eurasia Review.

China’s ‘irrational’ coal-to-gas plants inch forward
Despite widespread concern about the high greenhouse gas emissions and heavy water consumption, provincial Chinese governments and state-owned companies are allowing coal-to-gas plants to proceed, writes Edward Wong in the New York Times.


Danish utility pledges to end coal by 2023

The Danish energy utility Dong Energy has pledged to end coal use in its power plants by 2023. The company, which imported 1.7 million tonnes of coal in 2016, plans to convert its coal units to wood pellets and straw and has also shifted to become a major investor in wind energy. In 2006 Dong Energy ended the use of ‘blood coal’ from Drummond’s mines in Colombia and in April 2016 suspended imports from Glencore’s Colombian subsidiary Prodeco. (CNBC)

Five Spanish coal units retired in 2016

Annual data reveals five coal units with a combined capacity of 932 MW were retired in 2016, representing 8.5 per cent of Spain’s installed coal capacity. A further 10,000 MW of coal plants remain operating but face increasing challenges. Under European Union rules government subsidies for coal mining must end in 2018. A majority of the plants are listed under the European Union’s Industrial Emissions Directive as having until June 2020 to install new pollution control equipment or close. Civil society groups estimate that for Spain to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement all the remaining coal plants will have to close by 2025. (Instituto Internacional de Derecho y Medioambiente/Greenpeace/WWF)

Top News

India’s Environment Minister denies air pollution danger: The Minister for Environment in the Modi Government, Anil Madhav Dave, has informed India’s Parliament “there is no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct correlationship [sic] of death exclusively with air pollution.” His comments were in response to Greenpeace India’s “Airpocalypse” report which estimated the country’s outdoor air pollution resulted in 1.2 million premature deaths a year. Greenpeace India is campaigning for the implementation of a national action plan on air pollution, including emission standards for existing thermal power plants. (Hindustan Times, Greenpeace India)

Poland blocks public access to air pollution data: Despite extreme air pollution affecting many cities, the Polish environment ministry is refusing to alert the public until air pollution is over six times higher than the European Union’s recommended daily PM 10 particle level of 50 micrograms per cubic metre. The ministry has rejected an NGO’s request to set the alert level to 200 micrograms per cubic metre. In January the Polish Government announced plans to limit imports of lower quality coal which primarily comes from Russia. However, low-quality domestic coal is also sold for home heating. (Phys.org, Reuters)

US sulphur dioxide pollution from power plants plummets: Sulphur dioxide (S02) emissions from US power generation fell by 73 per cent between 2006 to 2015 due to the retirement of coal plants, installation of pollution control equipment and reduced utilisation of the most polluting plants. The Energy Information Administration estimates S02 emissions fell 26 per cent between 2014 and 2015.  Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky had the worst S02 pollution but had large improvements in air quality as they accounted for one-third of all US coal capacity retired in 2015. (Energy Information Administration)

US re-authorises dumping mine waste in rivers:  A majority of Congress has voted to repeal the Obama Administration’s Stream Protection Rule which limited the ability of mountaintop mining projects to dump mine waste in adjoining streams. The rule, which was finally enacted in mid-December 2016, would have reduced water pollution by excluding mining waste from streams and would have made some Appalachian mountaintop mines uneconomic. (New York Times, Vox)

Repression follows indigenous blockade of Colombian coal railway: Colombian riot police have arrested and beaten indigenous Wayuu community leaders after they blockaded the coal railway used by the Cerrejon coal mine. The leaders were protesting their right to consent to development projects and the failure to provide urgent food aid and health services. The Cerrejon coal project is jointly owned by BHP Billiton, Xstrata and Anglo American. (Telesur)

Another opponent of Bangladesh power plant killed: One person was killed and a dozen injured when supporters of the Chinese-backed 1320 MW Banshkhali plant attacked a group of protesters objecting to the plant. In April 2016 supporters of the plant shot and killed four opponents of the US$2.4 billion project. After the latest attack, China's Commerce Ministry defended SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Corporation’s involvement, insisting the protest was over local issues rather than against Chinese investment. (Reuters, EnergyWorld)

“Here in West Virginia, many creeks run orange … Of course I care about miners’ jobs, and I care about their safety … But orange is not the color of water,”

said Daile Rois, who lives downstream from an abandoned mine and criticised the repeal of the Stream Protection Rule by Congress.

“Orange is not the color of #water” #WestVirginia critic of #US axing Stream Protection Rule for #coal industry https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/02/business/energy-environment/senate-coal-regulations.html


Australia: Veteran coal industry lobbyist appointed as Prime Minister’s climate and energy adviser.

Australia: Queensland committee into black lung told about risk to coal port and train workers.

China: Coal plant utilisation falls in 2016 to 47.5 per cent, down 2.3 per cent in a year.

Poland: Government threat to launch legal challenge against EU climate law seen as dangerous gambit.

Thailand: Leader of Democrat Party vows to cancel proposed Krabi plant if he heads coalition government.

“Holding aside all other considerations, they [coal plants] are 50-year assets with a material carbon risk. This is only marginally improved by new coal technologies, or in the case of carbon capture and storage, are still too expensive. Put simply, you cannot finance coal,”

wrote Matthew Warren, the Chief Executive of the Australian Energy Council, a mostly gas and fossil fuel generators and retailers lobby group.

“Put simply, you cannot finance #coal” says head of Aust’s mostly #gas & #fossilfuels lobby group http://www.afr.com/opinion/columnists/we-cant-have-another-destructive-decade-in-energy-policy-20170207-gu7561

Companies + Markets

Australian gov’t flags subsidy for new power station: The Australian Minister for Resources, Matt Canavan, has suggested concessional loans may be considered for a new coal plant to service demand in the Galilee Basin, such as Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine. Adani currently has no power supply agreement for the proposed project. In response to Australian Government advocacy for new coal plants, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimated a new ultra-supercritical coal-fired power station in Australia would produce electricity at between US$103 and US$156 a megawatt hour (MWh). BNEF estimated new wind power would cost between US$47-91 per MWh, solar US$60-108 per MWh and combined-cycle gas at US$57-67 per MWh. (Guardian, RenewEconomy)

US company reviews viability of CCS plant as costs mount: The commissioning of the 582 MW Kemper CCS plant, originally due by the end of January, has been further delayed to allow a one week shutdown for repairs. Mississippi Power said the delay would add US$51 million, bringing the cost of the plant to US$7.092 billion. The company, which is facing three legal challenges over the plant, stated it was also “updating its economic viability analysisin light of the extra costs and “a decrease in the most recent forecasting of long-term projected natural gas costs.” (Watchdog.org, Mississippi Power)

Indian joint venture looks to restart Mozambique mine: International Coal Ventures Ltd (ICVL) – a joint venture of three Indian government-owned companies – is likely to resume coal production at its Benga mine near Moatize within a few months due to increased metallurgical coal prices. ICVL suspended operations in December 2015. A Tata Steel subsidiary has a 35 per cent stake in the project. India recently sought tariff relief and other support from the Mozambican government to assist Indian companies’ metallurgical coal projects. (Business Standard, Business Standard)

Coal reaps more windfalls in latest UK capacity market auction: Companies with coal and biomass plants won 10,480 MW of capacity contracts, just under 20 per cent of the total, in the UK Government’s latest electricity capacity auction for 2017/18. Environmental groups and some utilities have argued coal power should be excluded from future reserve capacity auctions to expedite the transition to cleaner energy. Greenpeace noted the Aberthaw plant in Wales, which was found in 2016 to be in breach of European Union pollution laws, was one of the winning bidders in the latest auction. (Financial Times, Guardian)


The role of coal in Europe’s power mix, Economist Intelligence Unit, February 2017. (Registration required to access free report.)

This 27-page report provides an overview of the trends affecting thermal coal in the major European consuming countries and argues that meeting the European Union’s long-term decarbonisation goals will require accelerating the phase out of unabated coal.

Expect the Unexpected: The Disruptive Power of Low-carbon Technology, Carbon Tracker and Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, February 2017.

This report argues current major corporate energy company scenarios underestimate the potential penetration of solar so much that by 2050 it could supply 29 of global electricity, causing the phasing out of all coal and cutting gas power to just a 1 per cent market share.

Factsheet: New coal in Australia: why the business case doesn't stack up, Climate Institute, February 2017. (Pdf)

This 2-page factsheet details why new coal plants in Australia won’t be financed by private banks and shouldn’t be subsidised by the Australian Government.