Jun 19, 2019

Coal projects face higher investor hurdles as climate risks mount

A coal-fired power plant in Hamburg, Germany. Photo: Markus Scholz/picture alliance via Getty Images

The growing risks associated with financing new coal projects have driven European and American institutional investors to seek returns up to 4 times greater than those for other sources of energy, according to a survey by the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

Why it matters: The cost of capital is a key determinant of whether new coal plants will be built. If costs rise relative to those of competing sources, the construction, expansion and even ongoing operation of coal plants could become prohibitively expensive.

Where it stands: For fossil fuel operators, higher expected rates of investment return are a form of climate-related transition risk — the threat of lower asset values and higher operating costs as societies decarbonize. Growing demand for cleaner energy sources —as much as $10 trillion through 2050 — continues to pull investment dollars away from coal and into less risky projects.

  • Between 2015 and 2018, investors' minimum rates of return for previously finished coal projects were 16%. These so-called hurdle rates now run as high as 40% for coal, compared to roughly 10% for wind and solar or 15%–20% for oil.

Between the lines: Misjudging the risks of the energy transition can be costly.

  • GE lost shareholders $193 billion on investments in its natural gas turbine and coal business. Although natural gas is a cleaner fuel subject to less transition risk than coal, the demand for both fossil fuels fell short of GE's lofty expectations, in part because of the rise of wind, solar and other clean energy options.
  • Over 113 globally significant financial institutions are now restricting access to finance for coal — another sign of the emerging consensus that it will continue to lose market share as the global community grapples with the need to address climate change.

Yes, but: The Oxford Institute study only interviewed investors in the U.S. and Europe. Asian investors continue to finance new coal plants and likely have different expected returns, though several Asian financial institutions have recently announced stricter coal policies.

The bottom line: Investors are already pricing in expectations for a transition to a cleaner energy mix, even as politicians have been slow to take corresponding actions.

Justin Guay directs global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project and advises the ClimateWorks Foundation.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,014,673 — Total deaths: 52,973 — Total recoveries: 210,335Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 244,678 — Total deaths: 5,911 — Total recoveries: 9,058Map.
  3. 2020 updates: The Democratic National Committee said its July convention will be postponed until August because of the coronavirus. A federal judge declined to delay Wisconsin's April 7 primary election.
  4. Jobs latest: Coronavirus unemployment numbers are like a natural disaster hitting every state.
  5. Public health latest: Anthony Fauci called for all states across the U.S. to issue stay-at-home orders. The FDA will allow blood donations from gay men after 3-month waiting period, citing "urgent need."
  6. Business latest: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said oil companies are eligible for aid from new lending programs the Federal Reserve is setting up, but not direct loans from his department.
  7. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Navy removes captain of aircraft carrier who sounded alarm about coronavirus.
  8. 1 future thing: In developing countries, consequences of COVID-19 could be deeper and far more difficult to recover from.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Mark Meadows considers new White House press secretary

Photos: Alyssa Farah, Defense Department; Stephanie Grisham, Alex Wong/Getty Images; Kayleigh McEnany, Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has privately discussed bringing on Pentagon spokesperson Alyssa Farah or Trump campaign spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany as a new White House press secretary, two sources familiar with the talks tell Axios.

Why it matters: Meadows' start on Tuesday as Trump's new chief presents a chance to overhaul a press shop that's kept a low profile since President Trump ended the tradition of daily press secretary briefings.

CNN: Fauci advises all states issue stay-at-home orders

Dr. Anthony Fauci listens to President Trump speak during a briefing on April 1. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci recommended on Thursday that all states across the U.S. implement stay-at-home orders, at a CNN town hall.

Why it matters: The recommendation stands in contrast to President Trump's calls for "flexibility." Nearly 4o states have issued stay-at-home orders to promote social distancing as a way to combat the novel coronavirus — but the orders vary in strictness and duration.

Go deeperArrow8 hours ago - Health