EU extends life of Europe’s biggest polluter while IPCC calls for coal phase out

Energy transition

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EU extends life of Europe’s biggest polluter while IPCC calls for coal phase out

The European Commission (EC)’s February decision to allow Polish state owned energy company PGE to continue operating two outdated production units at Belchatow, Europe’s largest coal power plant and biggest CO2 emitter, is being challenged by NGOs. According to a letter two groups sent recently to the EC (1), the Commission’s decision ignores a previous agreement the plant operator made with lenders to shut down two units by the end of 2015.

The operator BOT Elektrownia Belchatow SA, which was taken over by state-owned Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE) in 2007, agreed to close down units 1 and 2 of the Belchatow plant in central Poland under the terms of an agreement with a consortium of international financial institutions, led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), that were financing the modernisation of part of the plant (2).

“The operator of Belchatow promised to shut-down the plant’s two oldest units by the end of 2015 in exchange for a huge cash injection to fund the replacement of a different unit,” said Christian Schaible from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). “It is not only environmentally reckless to consider further exemptions for these oldest units, but it is also blatant cheating.”

According to the EBRD website the loan was given on the basis of “[…]significant environmental benefits as the new [unit] will […] replace older polluting generating units in Poland leading to reduced pro rata emissions.” (3) To date, there is no publicly available data that suggests that PGE has taken the steps to fulfil its commitment to close the units. In fact under Poland’s Transitional National Plan the operator wants to keep running the units beyond 2020. (4)

This controversy comes while government delegates have just finalised the summary of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which addresses how to best reduce CO2 emissions.

“The decision to extend the life of this filthy and outdated coal plant flies in the race of the latest findings from the IPCC, which has called for the phase-out of unabated coal in our low-carbon future,” said Kathrin Gutmann of CAN Europe.

Belchatow’s 13 units are not only the largest point source of CO2 emissions in Europe (5), but they also release huge amounts of dangerous air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides and particulate matter. These noxious gases are subject to the EU Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which introduces stricter limits for power plants as of January 2016. However, Poland opted for exemptions from these limits with a Transitional National Plan (TNP) which allows the introduction of more effective pollution controls for a set of power plants to be postponed until July 2020. The Polish plan covers 73 installations, including units 1-12 of Belchatow.

“Belchatow is the single biggest contributor to health and environmental problems of any power plant in the European Union,” says Julia Huscher from the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). “The operator’s own environmental impact assessment clearly states that shutting down the plant’s two units would lead to cleaner air and a consequent decline in respiratory illness. Ignoring this opportunity by allowing the lifetime of these two units to be prolonged means unnecessary and unjustifiable harm to human health.” (6)


Notes for the editors:

(1) Letter to the European Commission by EEB and HEAL:
A Transitional National Plan (TNP) allows Member States to exempt large combustion plants from minimum binding emission limits for SO2, NOx and dust (PM2.5 and PM10) which have been tightened up through the EU Industrial Emissions Directive with effect of 1st January 2016. The TNP derogation instead allows operators to delay stricter limits up to July 2020 through setting a common emissions volume for all power plants, thus postponing costly investments in new pollution control techniques.

(2) The modernisation plan includes the construction of a new block (unit 13), for which blocks 1 and 2 should be closed, and the modernization of blocks 3-12. Additionally, flue gas desulfurization systems to remove sulfur dioxide from the stacks should have been installed at two units which didn’t have any filters for this pollutant before 2005. Furthermore, best available techniques for pollution control should have been introduced by the project. After the construction of block 13 and works on units 1-6 Belchatow is now the one of the largest coal power plants in the world with 5298 MWel installed capacity and will probably overtake Tuoketuo in China on rank two by end of next year once works on units 7-12 are completed (compare operator’s website in Polish:

(3) European Bank for Reconstruction and Development: Project Summary Documents Belchatow II; Elektrownia Belchatow SA & ELBIS: Construction of 833 MW power unit at BOT Elektrownia Belchatow S.A. – Summary of the Environmental Impact Statement.

(4) Annex 8 to Poland’s Transitional National Plan, Przejściowy Plan Krajowy, version from 12 December 2013, downloaded from European Commission CIRCABC website

(5) In 2013 Belchatow emitted 37 million tons of CO2 compared to around 30 million tons annually between 2007 and 2010. European Commission, DG Climate Action, as well as European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register

(6) A 2011 report by the European Environment Agency estimated the external costs of Belchatow, including the external costs of CO2 emissions, at 1.5-2.5 billion Euro per year, making it the highest ranking polluter. European Environment Agency, 2011, Spreadsheet accompanying the report Revealing the costs of air pollution from industrial facilities in Europe,




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