NEWCASTLE coal exports hit a record 164.9 million tonnes in 2019, with demand from Asian power stations driving the port's three coal loaders past the previous high set in 2016.
The export value is likely to top $20 billion. The eventual total should top the past two years and could beat the record of an estimated $23.6 billion, also set in 2016.
Despite the global pressure facing the coal industry, the 2019 results defy the predictions of some industry critics and reflect the continued demand from major customers in South East Asia.
Further reading: How we were this time last year
About 87 per cent of Newcastle's exports last year were thermal coal for electricity generation, with the other 13 per cent being a higher-quality, and higher-priced, product sold as coking coal for steelmaking.
Prices for both types of coal fell during the year but volumes and values are both predicted to flatten out over the coming few years, according to recent reports by government agencies, banks and financial analysts.
The industry is regularly accused of ignoring climate change, and the bush fires emergency has created political problems for the Coalition government, along with others who support the continued use of coal.
Asked to comment, NSW Minerals Council chief executive Stephen Galilee said: "Our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by the terrible bushfires, including many in the mining sector who have also been directly impacted."
Mr Galilee said the minerals council's policy on climate change, energy and emissions showed its support of global efforts to reduce emissions, including Australia's Paris Agreement obligations.
"Global coal use is driven by demand, not supply, and last year's figures show demand is strong," Mr Galilee said.
"Our customers wouldn't turn off their power plants if NSW stopped supplying coal. They'd replace our high-quality coal with a lower-quality product, creating more emissions, globally.
"Those seeking reduced global emissions should support NSW coal exports, not oppose them."
Environmental groups won headlines last year with reports that various major banks were refusing to lend to new coal projects.
This was raised in a recent Reserve Bank of Australia report, which noted that most new finance was coming from groups of lenders rather than individual banks, meaning borrowing could be harder to arrange.
At the same time, the RBA still expects "moderate growth in export volumes" for thermal coal. Increasing electricity use could mean coal use falling as a percentage, but increase in tonnes used.
The figures in the graphic above have been assembled from various sources, with the tonnage figures coming from the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator. The HVCCC publishes weekly and monthly updates that show the amount of coal arriving at the port, and the amount leaving through the Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) loaders on Kooragang Island and at Carrington.
Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group (NCIG), which operates the other loader on Kooragang Island, does not supply figures for public consumption to the HVCCC, but its throughput can be inferred by subtracting PWCS's share from the total arrivals, with the remaining tonnage belonging to NCIG.
The actual tonnages may vary slightly from these volumes, depending on the size of the stockpiles at each of the three loaders at the start and finish of each year, but the changes are only minimal.
The Port of Newcastle usually publishes its own end-of-year trade tally each January, which provides another verification of the volumes, together with a total of the number of coal ships using the port.
The split of coal shipments between thermal coal and coking coal, and the market share of each customer nation, are derived from regular PWCS reports.
Prices come from various sources, including the industry journal Australian Coal Report.
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here