Coal Projects Busting Globally

Ideas and Issues
workshop plenary

New York City     Some of the more interesting reports at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) training and finance conference were from some of the activist global trackers of the coal industry.  Here’s the short summary:  the coal dudes are going down!

Christine Shearer of the Sierra Club’s Coalswarm Project laid out a lot of chapter and verse from their tracking of coal fired energy projects from the point of the first announcement to whether or not anything was ever built all around the world.  She indicated the ratio of pipe-dreams to built projects was about 2 hopes to 1 reality, and that’s good news for climate warriors and the rest of us.  In a report called “Boom and Bust:  Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline” they argued that China is at a “capacity glut,” and in India due to many factors including citizen opposition six projects have been shelved for every one that has been actually built.

Carl Williams-Derry from something called the Sightline Institute based in Seattle laid out a similarly encouraging report on the siting and development of coal shipping ports.  Most of those proposed on the US-West Coast where US-mining companies hoped to export coal to China and Japan have been trashed at this point.  A small one still seems in development around Vancouver, but for the most part the tide has gone out on these port projects.  Surprisingly, Kia Ball of Public Citizen, now based in New Orleans over the last year, indicated that the proposed project in Ironton in Plaquemines Parish still has a strong heartbeat to move coal from the Gulf.

Some of the projects just seemed crazy.  Sitting in on a meeting of the international campaigners, I was especially interested in the report by Nity Jayaraman from Chennai in southern India of the fight to prevent the construction of a huge coal-fired plant on the Tamil Nadu coastline.  The Cheyynur plant promoters have already low-balled the likely cost per kilowatt hour of the plant.  Work done by IEEFA and their associates in India indicates that they have underestimated the cost by half or perhaps even a third.  In the discussion they also concluded that they were undercounting the impact of a captive coal port just to service that one plant, which could move the numbers even farther away from any notion of sustainability.  And, then there’s the environment.  According to Nity, they are going to level out the sand dunes along the coast to ease the construction process, but of course it was those same dunes that took the hit from the devastating tsunami more than a decade ago which hit the Indian coast hard, particularly among Tamil fishing families.  This is a mess in the making.

A number of the financial analysts in earlier sessions were swooning in a kind of bromance in their hopes for the new BJP Prime Minister Modi and some of his announcements about cutbacks in coal and improvements in the environment.  No question he is wildly business-friendly, but this coal coastal disaster of a plant will be an interesting test since the central government is a big backer of the project about whether he will play politics and crony capitalism or do the right thing for people there.

No question from the reports that the industry is on the run and going down, but the fight is a long way from won and place-to-place there remains a call for hard campaigns and great organizing to push more of these coal plants into the dark ages where they belong.

international organizers meeting, Nity Jayaraman on the left from Chennai and Tom Sanzillo from IEEFA on the right


 group of the organizers -- our colleague from Italy, Daniele Pommes is on the far right
group of the organizers — our colleague from Italy,
Daniele Pommes is on the far right


Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly & Friends ~ We Shall Be Free