Japan’s general trading companies such as Marubeni, Mitsubishi Corporation, Sumitomo Corporation, ITOCHU Corporation and MITSUI & CO. are promoting development of coal related projects at home and overseas. However in recent years, due to a global trend towards decarbonization, these companies have accelerated their movements to exit coal, for instance, by announcing new coal policies and selling their coal-related interests. However, some of them are still involved in construction of new coal-fired power plants. Their early withdrawal from coal is desired.
Many countries around the world are already moving away from coal. While electricity markets continue to shift to cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable renewable energy resources over coal, those general trading companies indicated, in principle, their intention not to participate in new coal businesses one after another. Now, five major trading companies (Mitsui & Co., Marubeni, Mitsubishi Corp., Sumitomo Corp., ITOCHU) stand in line with each other in terms of coal-fired power generation projects, but their policy is to suspend “new” business. None of them have decided to withdraw from existing businesses yet.
Here we report how these major Japanese trading companies are involved in big coal-fired power plant projects in the world.
Marubeni is among the world’s biggest players in the power-generation business. It is actively involved in the construction and operation of coal-fired power plants, coal mining, and other coal-related infrastructure development across the globe.
On September 18, 2018, Marubeni announced a new policy that it is no longer involved in new coal-fired power generation projects and would cut its FY2018 coal-fired power net generation capacity of approximately 3GW in half by 2030. Additionally, it announced in October 2019 its withdrawal from the Morupule-B coal-fired power plant (600MW) in Botswana as well as two other projects in Asia as progress pertaining to its sustainable policy. Also, it officially announced a withdrawal from Tabametsi coal power plant project（557MW）in South Africa, in November 2020. Furthermore, on March 9, 2021, Marubeni announced a long-term goal of reducing global warming gas emissions to net zero by 2050. And moving up the schedule of the former policy of halving the installed capacity of coal-fired power plants by 2030, to five years earlier, and it said it will aim to reach zero in 2050. However, there are still large projects planned or under construction as listed below.
In Indonesia, Cirebon Unit 1 (660 MW) is in operation and Unit 2 (1,000MW) is under construction. Regarding Unit 2, local residents filed legal actions to point out the inappropriate issuance of environment permission by the local authority, which resulted in the loss of their livelihood. A corruption case has also come up with Cirebon 2, which is still under investigation by Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission.
In Vietnam, the Nghi Son 2 (1,200MW) coal-fired power plant is under construction. Severe air pollution is already a big problem in Vietnam, bringing risk of premature death to 20,000 people every year. One of the primary causes of the air pollution is emissions from coal-fired power plants. Marubeni reduced its portfolio by transferring 10% of Nghi Son 2 ‘s stock holdings from its own share to Tohoku Electric Power. However this obviously does not bring any effects on countering global warming or air pollution.
In the Philippines, the Pagbilao 1 and 2 coal-fired power plants (735MW in total) are operated by TeaM Energy Corporation（TEC）which is jointly operated by Marubeni and JERA (a joint venture between TEPCO FP and Chubu Electric). Marubeni is involved in the Pagbilao 3 coal-fired power plant (420MW, operation started in March 2018). From the time Units 1 and 2 began operating, local residents have been exposed to harmful dust from coal storage yards and some reports say that more people have suffered from cardiopulmonary diseases. TeaM Energy also operates Sual Plant (1,218MW, coal) and Ilijan Plant (1,251MW, natural gas, Combined-cycle) in the Philippines.
Marubeni was planning to build a new coal-fired power plant in Akita city with Kanden Energy Solutions (Kenes) which is wholly owned by Kansai Electric Power. Marubeni completed an environmental impact assessment for this project, tentatively calling the project Akita-port power plant (2 units of 650MW, 1300MW in total) and planned to start construction in 2019, and operation in 2024. However, this schedule was put in hold in August 2019. Marubeni is proceeding with another project in the same Akita port, a project to construct, maintain and operate large offshore wind farms, however, still no announcement to cancel its coal-power project.
In December 2019, Mitsubishi Corporation published the ESG Data Book 2019, in which it stated the company would not develop any new coal-fired power plants. However, this revised policy is still insufficient as it is “considering the result of scenario analyses based on 2°C scenario” by excluding “already commenced projects to develop.” Meanwhile, the company has reviewed and sold all their interests in coal for power generation (thermal coal) by 2019. On the other hand, it has gained much criticism over its intentions to continue construction of the Vung Ang 2 coal-fired power plant in Vietnam. In February 2021, it was reported that Mitsubishi Corporation is withdrawing from another plan in Vietnam, the Vinh Tan 3 coal-fired power generation project. An early withdrawal from other projects is requested.
The Vung Ang 2 (VA2) coal-fired power generation project (1,200MW)
In October 2020, 21 investor alliances mainly in Europe submitted a requesting letter to Mitsubishi Corp. and other related business operators to withdraw from VA2 project. This letter was jointly signed by Nordea Asset Management, Amundi, AP7, Allianz and other institutional investors.
The Hirono IGCC and the Nakoso IGCC (Integrated coal Gasification Combined Cycle) (543MW each)
Mitsubishi Corp. is involved in the construction and operation of two IGCC plants located at Hirono and Nakoso in Fukushima through its subsidiaries. IGCC Hirono is under construction and IGCC Nakoso is under full operation since February 24, 2020.
In August 2019, Sumitomo Corporation announced the “Integrated Report 2019”. In this report, Sumitomo Corp. announced that it will not be involved in the new development of the coal-fired power generation business and the coal mine business. According to some news reports, during October-December 2020, it has sold its interests in the US shale oil development business and has already withdrawn from the business. Regarding the coal-fired power generation business, some media reports that Sumitomo Corp. could not get a refinance loan for the Bluewaters coal-fired power plant (434MW) project in West Australia, and that resulted in a loss of approximately 25 billion yen. The company is still involved in the following coal-fired power plants which are being planned or under construction abroad. Also, it is expected to be involved in the Phase 2 of the Matabari coal-fired power plant project in Bangladesh.
Tanjung Jati B coal-fired power generation project and further expansion plan (2,000MW total)
Van Phong 1 coal-fired power generation project (1,320MW)
In February 2019, ITOCHU Corporation announced its policy to no longer acquire business of new coal-fired power generation and coal mining projects. Around the same time, ITOCHU sold off its assets of the Rolleston Coal Mine, which they owned through IMEA in Australia. In January 2021, as its outline of the medium-term management plan up to FY2023, the company announced a policy to completely withdraw their interest in the steaming coal, which is coal used as fuel for power generation. In February, it announced that it would sell its mining interests in Colombia’s coal for power generation, which is equivalent to 80% of its interests in steam coal (coal for power generation), by the end of FY2021. ITOCHU has been progressing in shrinking its coal-related business, making an announcement on its policy to sell all of its interests in coal for power generation (steam coal). However, it still has on going coal power projects which local communities are opposing.
Batang coal-fired power generation project (2,000MW) – under construction
MITSUI & CO.
In October 2020, Mitsui ＆Co. announced it would intend to sell off all the interests it has in the coal-fired power plant business in China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Morocco by 2030. In January 2021, Tatsuo Yasunaga, President & CEO of Mitsui & Co. spoke in an interview, that the company would accelerate the schedule of this sell off. According to news reports, Mitsui & Co. indicates policy that the company may start withdrawing from overseas coal-fired power generation business as early as 2021. Regarding coal mining and port infrastructure business in collaboration with Brazilian resource giant Vale in Mozambique, it is reported that Mitsui & Co. reached a basic agreement to transfer the holdings and the accompanying loans to Vale for $ 1 each. Mitsui & Co. should withdraw from other coal-fired generation businesses sooner.
Trading companies have expanded their coal-fired power generation business having increasing demand in emerging countries as a background. However, investors’ demand for decoalization and decarbonization is getting stronger to the level that it cannot be ignored. Also, insurance is a prerequisite for provision of loans (project finance) to construct power plants and running generation businesses, however, major nonlife insurance companies started announcing their stance of removing coal from their business, one after another. As similar to trading companies, the policies of those insurance companies have loopholes. However, 3 mega non-life insurance companies: SOMPO Holdings, MS & AD Insurance Group Holdings, and Tokio Marine Holdings are in line with “exit from coal-fired power generation”. While pressure from insurance companies and institutional investors is increasing, any entities operating coal-related businesses are asked to withdraw from such businesses as soon as possible. The trading companies are not an exclusion.
Read more about coal exit policy of insurance companies.
No Coal Japan demands
No Coal Japan calls on Marubeni, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Itochu, and all other coal power developers to:
- Fix its loophole-filled decarbonisation policies.
- Stop or cancel coal projects, at whatever stage they may be.
- Take proactive action in order to stop the operation of existing plants in order to be consistent with the targets of the Paris Agreements.