Energy crisis: the increase in coal production in Europe is “messy”

Energy crisis: the increase in coal production in Europe is “messy”

EU efforts to reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels have undermined member states’ plans to phase out coal-fired power.

Some regions in the EU that were planning to move away from coal are now seeing a surge in production and an increase in the amount of fossil fuels produced, following rising gas prices and Russian gas cuts.

The EU has set up a Just Transition Fund (JTF) with €17.5 billion for the 2021-2027 budget period to help coal-dependent regions switch to clean energy.

In order to access this funding, coal regions must commit to a roadmap providing for emission reductions by 2030 as part of Territorial Plans for a Just Transition (PTJT).

So far, the Commission has only reached a final agreement with Greece and Germany on the plans for these two regions. However, according to the EU executive, ” almost all “ the other Member States have communicated at least informal drafts to them.

Back to coal

The EU’s drive to reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels, however, has left many countries struggling to find alternative short-term solutions.

“When the JTF was set up, the idea of ​​the Russian invasion was non-existent”Lilo Bärbel Rösch, co-author of a report on PTJT, told EURACTIV.

“It was an exceptional geopolitical turnaround”added Ms. Rösch.

In response to the crisis, some countries have chosen to return to coal to meet their energy needs.

For example, last month the Netherlands announced plans to run its coal-fired power plants at higher capacity to reduce Russian gas consumption. Previously, these plants could only operate at 35% capacity.

However, the framework document for EU structural investments in the Netherlands for the next seven years, published by the European Commission a few days after the announcement, promised Dutch regions ” with large emissions-intensive industrial groups» €623 million from the Green Economy Transition Fund.

The same goes for Poland, the main beneficiary of FTJ funding with 3.5 billion euros, heavily dependent on coal and which has seen its dependence increase since the start of the energy crisis.

Poland is responsible for producing almost a fifth of the EU’s total coal. It has seen coal mining increase in the first months of 2022, compared to the same period in previous years.

In March alone, 5.483 million tons of coal were mined, the highest level since November 2018.

In the neighboring Czech Republic, coal companies that had planned to limit extraction ended up expanding it.

The Czech coal company Sokolovská uhelná has thus rehired dozens of employees – most of whom had been laid off two years ago. The company justified this expansion by the need to obtain enough coal for the winter season, reported Czech Television.

Also in Germany, the coal-fired power plant operator RWE in North Rhine-Westphalia, a state covered by PTJTs already approved by the Commission, has ended early retirement plans for its employees and is looking for additional staff. .

In total, hundreds of workers are likely to be recruited to ensure that the coal-fired power plants are operational.

Coal production will have to be “compensated”, explains Brussels

In Brussels, the European Commission is aware that some coal-producing regions and some Member States plan to increase their use of fossil fuel.

In response to EURACTIV on the subject, the EU executive said it was currently in the process “to carefully analyze recent announcements as well as the scale and duration of the planned use of coal”.

If the new EU plan to move away from Russian fossil fuels foresees that coal production can be increased ” short term “EU countries remain legally bound to reduce net emissions by at least 55% by the end of the decade.

“Any prolonged use of coal, with its inevitable effects on greenhouse emissions, will have to be offset by increased energy efficiency and energy savings as well as increased use of renewables by 2030. » the Commission said.

Asked if he is prepared to suspend funding for JTF regions that go back on their commitments, the EU executive told EURACTIV that any “serious impairment”against previously agreed objectives or EU law may result in suspension or recovery, “which applies in particular in the event of irregular expenditure”.

The executive, however, did not specify what constitutes a “serious impairment”.

“There is a feeling of indulgence because of the war” said Ms. Rösch.

Czech Regional Development Minister Ivan Bartoš, whose country took over the rotating EU Council Presidency on July 1, admitted that some regions do not use ” most likely “not the funds “like they’re supposed to and it’s a mess” .

However, with the war in Ukraine, “the structure of projects under the just transition funds should change”since“the playing field has changed”he told EURACTIV.

It is important to stress that the short-term reopening of coal-fired power plants should only take place as a very last resort, once it is clear that there are no other means of producing the energy. required, said Jens Hunsbeth Schreuder, a policy officer covering just transition for the NGO CEE Bankwatch.

“Alternatives are often cheaper and more efficient than reopening coal infrastructure, so the European Commission must be vigilant on this issue”he added.

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