24 June 2020

Europe to be swept by a wave of coal plant closures as EU pollution standards kick-in

Madrid, 24 June 2020 – Eight Spanish coal power plants with a total capacity of 5.16 GW are expected to close, and a host of coal units in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia face a very challenging future, as exemptions from EU limits on pollution standards expire on 30 June.

To date, these coal units have been able to operate at emission levels above EU standards, but after next week, they will have to decide whether to undertake expensive retrofits, run for restricted hours, or close altogether [1]. For the owners of Spain’s loss-making plants, the decision was clear: closure. The retirements have been authorised by the country’s energy regulator, and are expected to be rubber-stamped by the Spanish government.

“For too long, huge amounts of public and private money has been poured into Spain’s failing coal plants, while coal workers have been left worrying about their livelihoods,” said Carlota Ruiz-Bautista, environmental lawyer at IIDMA. “Crucially, the Spanish government realised that coal plant closures were unavoidable, and that it needed to act, so it began working with stakeholders in 2018. Now that the regional just transition agreements are being developed, nobody should be left behind, and resistance to the closures is fading.”

Spain’s coal power plants generated less than five percent of the country’s electricity in 2019, while renewable energy sources contributed 36.8 percent [2]. This, combined with the end of EU emission exemptions, and the Spanish government’s just transition plans have ushered in the needed, rapid decline of its coal sector [3]. While Spain is yet to announce a coal phase-out, it is now on track to be coal-free by the mid 2020s – a timetable that would make its coal exit compatible with the UN Paris Climate Agreement.

“The closure of half of Spain’s coal capacity without compensating utilities is a clear sign of coal’s failing economics, and the Spanish government’s alertness to coal’s rapid demise,” said Zala Primc, Europe Beyond Coal campaigner. “In comparison, the German and Polish governments are asleep at the wheel. As the Czech coal commission prepares its recommendations for a Czech coal phase-out, it should look to Spain’s proactive example, and be wary of Germany’s foot-dragging. Bowing to pressure from coal companies will do nothing but put taxpayers on the hook for undue compensation, risk people’s health, lead coal workers into a dead end, and exacerbate the climate crisis.”

Of Spain’s six remaining coal plants, two are expected to close by 2022, another by 2025, and a further retirement has recently been announced, though no closure date has been confirmed. Only Aboño 2 and Soto de Ribera in Asturias are without a closure plan [4]. Several plants in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are also expected to be impacted when the full weight of the EU pollution standards come into force.

 

Contacts:
Alastair Clewer, Communications Officer, Europe Beyond Coal (English)
[email protected], +49 176 433 07 185

Zala Primc, Campaigner, Europe Beyond Coal (English, Slovene)
[email protected], +386 40 981 828

Carlos Meza, Communications Manager, IIDMA (Spanish, English)
[email protected], +34 91 308 68 46

Notes:

  1. According to EU regulation, as of 1 July 2020, coal plants under Transitional National Plans must default to a peak of 1500 operational hours per year, retrofit to meet stricter emission limit values, or close. The Spanish closures account for more than half (5.16 GW) of the country’s total 9.86 GW of coal power capacity. The plants that will close are Puente Nuevo (324 MW), Lada (358 MW), Narcea (531 MW), Velilla (561 MW), La Robla (655 MW), Teruel/Andorra (1101 MW), Meirama (580 MW) and Compostilla II (1052 MW). A number of coal power units are also expected to close in Poland, but currently only the closure of two units at Patnow I (600 MW) have been confirmed. In the Czech Republic, Prunerov I will close (440 MW), while in Slovakia, Zvolenska B (19 MW) will be converted to gas and biomass.
  2. https://www.ree.es/en/press-office/news/press-release/2019/12/spain-closes-2019-10-more-installed-renewable-power-capacity
  3. Spain’s hard coal mining sector underwent a similar collapse in December 2018 when EU rules on state aid obliged 26 mines in receipt of state subsidies to either close or give back the money they’d received. The majority opted to shut as they were no longer profitable.
  4. EDP’s Abono 2 and Soto de Ribera are the only coal plants in Spain without a closure plan, although the company has announced it will be coal free before 2030 and has voiced plans to shut its Soto de Ribera plant by 2022. It plans to convert Abono 1 to gas by 2022. Endesa plans to shut its two last plants on mainland Spain, As Pontes and Litoral, in 2021, although plans for co-firing coal and biomass in some units of As Pontes are still on the table. Viesgo has requested permission to close it’s Los Barrios plant but has not yet specified a date. The last two units of Endesa’s Alcúdia plant in Mallorca are scheduled to close in 2025, subject to building a second connection cable between the Balearics and the Spanish peninsular, and will operate at reduced capacity until then.
  5. The eight Spanish plants set to retire are estimated to have been responsible for 349 premature deaths, and EUR 0.5 – 1 million in health costs in 2016 alone. Their closures mean that Spain’s coal capacity will be cut to 4.7 GW (Last Gasp report, 2018).

Europe Beyond Coal is an alliance of civil society groups working to catalyse the closures of coal mines and power plants, prevent the building of any new coal projects and hasten the just transition to clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Our groups are devoting their time, energy and resources to this independent campaign to make Europe coal free by 2030 or sooner. www.beyond-coal.eu

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