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Coal comes under pressure

While US President Donald Trump continues his efforts to revive the coal industry, governments across the Atlantic are vowing to crack down on greenhouse gas pollution and stop the use of the fossil fuel.

 

Gonzalo Garcia, the global co-head of natural resources at Goldman Sachs Group, believes that Western Europe may already have built its last coal-fired power plant; and there is a growing list of financial institutions that have pledged to end their involvement in coal power projects, including Standard Chartered, Lloyd’s of London and the World Bank.

Coal-fired projects that aim to minimise greenhouse emissions while maximising efficiency are, despite technological advancements, still risky.

A proposed gasified coal-fired  project at Łęczna in Poland risks high build costs and unreliable operation, given experience of similar technology in the USA, said a report published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

The report draws parallels between the proposal by the Polish utility ENEA SA and two projects in the USA: Southern Company’s Kemper County energy facility in Mississippi and Duke Energy’s Edwardsport power station in Indiana.

“Overall, the US experience has shown that it is extremely expensive to build and operate new IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) power plants, and that, once completed, these plants do not operate reliably,” said David Schlissel, IEEFA’s director of resource planning analysis. "This is especially true for systems involved in the gasification of coal.”

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group – Japan’s largest lender and biggest bank by assets – said it was reviewing its lending policies for coal-fired power generation projects. The bank also said its lending would be guided by OECD standards, which encourage lending only to high-efficiency “ultra-supercritical” coal-fired power plants.

The comments came just days after Marubeni, which has equity investments in six Australian coal mines and seven Asian power stations, said it would halve its coal-fired generation capacity by 2030 and double the percentage of renewables in its portfolio by 2023.

The statements from the two companies highlight the long-term challenges facing Australia’s thermal coal sector, which shipped 41 percent of its exports to Japan in fiscal 2017.

In Arkansas, USA, coal has been ‘dethroned’ as the top fuel source for power generation. “Out of favour is probably a good term” for coal’s status, said Entergy Arkansas’ director of resource planning and market operations, Kurt Castleberry, noting market forces and growing environmental awareness among consumers have limited the appeal of coal. “We’re not planning to build any new coal plants, but our existing coal plants still have life in them, and they’re economical, large-scale, and clean,” said Castleberry. “We’ll run them until their useful life expires.”

This article is taken from the Capital Projects and Contracts newsletter.

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