Local Communities to General Electric: Don’t Dump Coal Here

GE is selling equipment to coal projects around the world—even though coal is a major driver of climate change.

While General Electric claims to be aligned with the Paris Agreement on climate change, the company is selling equipment to new coal projects all around the world—even though coal is one of the main sources of the greenhouse gases driving climate change. And coal is also a danger to the health of local communities near the coal plants. That’s why 65 NGOs in countries where GE is expanding coal power wrote a letter to GE telling the CEO Larry Culp to get the company out of all these coal deals.

From Cambodia to Indonesia, Kenya, Poland, South Africa, Turkey, to Vietnam, communities are demanding that companies like General Electric stop building and equipping coal plants:

We, the undersigned, represent 65 civil society organisations from 16 countries around the world in which GE is expanding coal power.  We call on GE to commit to no longer supply any coal-fired power station equipment which would expand coal power anywhere around the world. 

We also don’t need you to spread the air and water pollution that comes with the expansion of the coal industry, destroying the lives, health, productivity and livelihoods of people in our countries. 

We want to use renewable energy to develop. Our countries deserve the chance to grow using cutting-edge, clean technology which won’t pollute our air, our waterways and our lungs.  In many of our countries, renewable power is cheaper than new coal or will be within the next few years. We don’t want to be locked into paying for dirty energy just because you think you can make a few quick bucks.

—Excerpts from the NGO letter to GE

An Investigation into GE’s Coal Projects

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times published an article investigating General Electric’s rush to build coal overseas. What the story reveals is that General Electric is part of at least 19 coal projects in 17 different countries. In many instances, these countries have weaker environmental standards for coal plants than the US. As developed economies are on track to phase out coal plants, one financial analyst has described GE’s push to sell coal technology overseas as a “fire sale” that “reeks of desperation.” Despite GE’s claims to provide the “best available technology,” the fine print on their claim is that it’s only the “best” available that GE can offer, because the company has relatively limited experience with technologies such as solar and storage. Many better technologies exist for zero-emissions power generation, but General Electric is not competitive in those projects. As we highlighted in NRDC’s September 2019 report on GE coal plants, GE is involved in several projects mired in delays—including those with legal challenges by local residents about the pollution impacts, and those with US sanctions on some of the partners for GE’s projects.

Cancelled Coal Projects a Step in the Right Direction

Even though it is not happening fast enough, there appears to be a reckoning coming for GE’s bad bets on coal. Last month, the very last planned coal plant for Poland was suspended by project developers thanks to strong local opposition and the cost of better alternatives. And earlier this week, the Kosovo e Re coal project, which has struggled to get financing for about a decade, was finally cancelled by the developers. GE, which would have supplied both projects, could have avoided the mess in both cases if it had conducted a realistic assessment of the global demand for coal. They could have seen the writing on the wall—that global demand for new coal plants is shrinking at hyper speed—and avoided costly and failed projects.

Long Term Global Health and Climate Implications

The Lamu coal project that GE is reportedly going to supply would emit 5-10 times more pollutants relative to the emissions limits allowed for China, the EU or United States. This is an entirely unacceptable situation that General Electric can avoid simply by getting out of these deals. We know from decades of data on other coal plants and modeling for the Lamu coal plant that it would result in:

  • elevated levels of toxic particles in the air over Lamu and beyond, increasing the risk of diseases such as stroke, lung cancer, heart and respiratory diseases in adults, as well as respiratory infections in children. This leads to premature deaths from these causes—estimated at 1600 premature deaths over the lifetime of the project. Lamu’s SO2, NOx and dust emissions would contribute to toxic particle exposure.
  • acid rain, which can affect crops and soils
  • fallout of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, nickel, chrome, lead and mercury

Similar outcomes would be likely at other GE facilities, though GE does not provide sufficient transparency about the illnesses or premature death estimates associated with its coal projects.

Coal plants are also the biggest single source of global carbon emissions—which are fueling climate change. If General Electric is serious about its commitment to the Paris Agreement, then it must transition out of the coal business.