BlackRock joins Citi to study plan to shut coal plants early

Coal mining in East Kutai, East Kalimantan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

BlackRock Inc. and other major financial institutions are working on plans to accelerate the closure of coal-fired power plants in Asia in a bid to phase out the use of the worst man-made contributors to climate change.

The world’s biggest asset manager is partnering with Citigroup Inc., HSBC Holdings Plc and the Asian Development Bank to study the proposals, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named discussing a private matter. BlackRock is assessing the plans through its real assets unit, one of the people said.

The proposals, which are being led by the Asian Development Bank and Prudential Plc, involve buying coal plants in developing economies in Asia and operating them for as long as 15 years before closing the sites ahead of current schedules. The plan was first reported by Reuters.

ADB couldn’t immediately confirm the identities of the proposed partners. Representatives for Citi and BlackRock declined to comment. HSBC didn’t immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

Even as governments set out goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, coal remains a principal source of energy for many countries in Asia, with China and India accounting for two-thirds of global demand

Even as governments set out goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, coal remains a principal source of energy for many countries in Asia, with China and India accounting for two-thirds of global demand. Consumption in key markets is forecast to increase for the next few years and coal-fired electricity generation could hit a record in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency.

By acquiring and running the power plants at a lower cost of capital than is currently available to commercial operators, ADB and partners would be able to generate similar returns over a shorter period, facilitating the early closures of the assets, Reuters reported.

Funding for the ADB plan is expected to come from both public and private institutions, although targets have not been set, said Ahmed M Saeed, the lender’s vice president for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

ADB is currently in discussions with governments in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines on the proposal, and may see a pilot acquisition that is “big enough to matter” next year, Saeed said. ADB plans to start raising funds at the COP26 climate conference in November.

For the plan to be successful, it will need countries to commit to not replace eliminated coal use with other fossil fuels, said Saeed. The timeframe of 15 years will allow for sufficient planning, and will help to avoid consequences such as poor regions suddenly losing access to heating, he said.

Earlier this year, Citi met with large institutional investors in London to pitch a vehicle intended to acquire coal mines and shutter them before 2045.

(By Krystal Chia, with assistance from Nabila Ahmed, David Stringer and Alaric Nightingale)

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