Energy Crisis

Europe is firing up old coal plants to get through winter

Europe is firing up old coal plants to get through winter

Photo: Adrem68 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode

Published

June 20, 2022

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Published:

June 20, 2022

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The plan to gradually end the use of coal in power plants in Europe is on hold – indefinitely. Germany is getting retired facilities back online as Gazprom’s gas supply flow is dwindling, while Italy is on the brink of declaring an emergency.

Russia has significantly reduced or halted the delivery of natural gas to several European Union member states, prompting emergency government meetings. Decision makers are making plans to get people and businesses through next winter.

Even though it is formally sticking with its plan to completely stop using fossil gas by 2030, Germany changed its course since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Ironically, Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Robert Habeck, a high-ranking member of the Alliance 90/The Greens, announced that the government is getting retired coal plants back online and that replenishing gas storage is “a top priority.”

The European Union aims to fill up gas storage to at least 90% by the beginning of December

The level of gas in storage is at 56%, he pointed out and noted the measure must reach 65% by August 1 and at least 80% by October 1. The EU’s latest regulations are aimed at hitting 90% by December 1. Germany promised to provide funding for the endeavor and back its industry’s purchases. At current prices, it would need EUR 15 billion.

Before the war, the country was importing almost half of its gas from Russia. In the meantime, it managed to lower the level to 35%. The EU has the ambition to eradicate the demand for all of Russia’s fossil fuels by 2027.

Austria’s last coal-fired power plant is coming back online

In Austria, where the Greens are also a junior member of the ruling coalition, the government made state-controlled energy utility Verbund restart its Mellach coal plant. The facility was switched to reserve two years ago in a move advertised as ending coal use in the country.

The U-turn in energy policy of Europe’s major economies is threatening to derail coal phaseout plans on a global level

The EU and the Energy Community have been pressing Western Balkan governments for years to produce plans to phase out lignite. The U-turn, especially the one in Germany, is threatening to end such efforts in Southeastern Europe, but also throughout the world.

The United Kingdom is postponing the closure of most of its coal power capacities, scheduled for this year.

Russia’s Gazprom has blamed the cut in gas supply to Europe on maintenance issues, saying key components for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline aren’t being delivered from Canada due to sanctions. Habeck dismissed the claim. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi went further to declare both his cabinet and the government in Germany believe the Russian supplier’s statements are “lies.”

Bet on LNG

Just like Germany, Italy is preparing to sound the alarm. Both countries are working on plans to limit gas supplies to the industry and install terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG). Italy is also counting on more supplies from Algeria. It said it would also buy LNG from Mozambique.

Reuters reported that Italy’s coal power plants have accumulated the fuel to increase output. To make matters worse, the country is struck by a major drought, limiting production at its hydropower plants.

Capacity utilization of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea was at 40% today, the article adds. Even before the war in Ukraine, the International Energy Agency said global coal demand would reach a record this year.

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