The last of the coal in stock in the Pego power plant has been spent, which marked the end of the use of the fossil fuel for the production of electricity in Portugal, even though the official deadline was 2030.
Environmental organizations welcomed the initiative, but they warned that replacing coal with other fossil fuels is not a solution. “The focus should be on rapidly upscaling our renewable energy capacity in wind and solar,” said Francisco Ferreira, president of environmental group Zero, as quoted by Reuters.
The Pego power plant in central Portugal was the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide. It is run by Tejo Energia, controlled by Engie and Marubeni’s joint venture Trust Energy. Endesa has a minority stake in the power plant operator.
“The challenge now is to ensure utilities do not make the mistake of replacing coal with fossil gas, or unsustainable biomass,” stated Kathrin Gutmann, director of Europe Beyond Coal.
Two thirds of electricity in Portugal come from renewable sources, but the country is still dependent on fossil fuel imports. Just a few days before the closure of the last coal-fired power plant, the European Commission referred the dispute with the government over excessive air pollution with nitrogen dioxide to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Before the closure of the Pego power plant, the Sines power plant was shut down in January.
Transition dynamics in Europe
Belgium stopped using coal to produce electricity in 2016, followed by Austria and Sweden last year. France has pledged to do so next year. A dozen more European countries intend to ditch coal by 2030.
In the European Union, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Malta never used coal to produce electricity or stopped doing so a long time ago, as have Albania, Iceland, and Switzerland.
Germany has pledged to stop using coal in 2038, but the newly formed ruling coalition has promised to make an effort to achieve the goal in 2030. Deadlines are still pending for Poland and Turkey, which has only recently ratified the Paris Agreement, among the last remaining countries in the world.
According to Europe Beyond Coal, just over 50% of Europe’s coal-fired power plants have been shut down or are planned for closure by the end of the decade. It is one of the crucial elements in the fight against climate change.
Coal phaseout in Balkans
Greece has set 2028 as the deadline for ending the use of coal in a draft of its first Climate Law, even though the government and state-owned power utility PPC have previously estimated they would switch the last coal-fired power plant, Ptolemaida 5, which is still under construction, to gas in 2025. Hungary has moved the deadline five years ahead, to 2025.
Northern Macedonia has promised to end the use of coal in 2027, and Montenegro is considering rejecting it as early as 2030. In Bulgaria, three options are open: 2035, 2038, and 2040. Croatia has set its deadline to 2033, with the possibility of closing the last coal-fired power plant even earlier. Romania plans to abolish the fuel in 2032, and the Government of Slovenia has proposed 2033.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, and Serbia have not yet announced dates for the complete cessation in the use of coal for electricity production. They only took on the obligation to become completely decarbonized by 2050.
In any case, Europe and the Balkans have a long way to go to overcome the dependence of the economy and society on the said source. It is an unavoidable task for the current decade and in the years to come.