Coal power plants in the Western Balkans repeatedly breach pollution control rules

A report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and Bankwatch shows, how 18 coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans emitted twice as much sulfur dioxide than was released by 221 power plants in the EU in one year: 2019. This is in stark contrast to 2015, when emissions of SO2  — an air pollutant that can cause respiratory issues and other health problems — from coal-powered electricity generation in the then EU28 were 20% higher than those from Western Balkan countries.

The report, Western Balkan coal power plants polluted twice as much as those in the EU in 2019, finds that some individual coal power plants in the Western Balkans emit more than entire countries in the EU. Nikola Tesla A, in Serbia, exceeded the total SO2 emissions of the highest emitting EU country, Poland.

When looking at emissions per GWh of electricity produced, Ugljevik, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with 50 tonnes of SO2/GWh, is the biggest offender. In comparison, Bełchatów in Poland, the EU’s most polluting power plant, emitted just 1.1 tonnes of SO2/GWh.

While the EU has closed 30 such coal plants since 2016, and is becoming compliant with the Industrial Emissions Directive, and its requirements to reduce pollution, this has not been the case for the Western Balkan region where pollution control rules have been repeatedly breached.

Since 2018, 17 of the 18 coal power plants in the Western Balkans have been under legal obligation to implement the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD). This should have resulted in significant immediate drops in SO2, NOx and dust pollution, followed by gradual reductions of these pollutants until the end of 2027.

“These findings demonstrate the urgent need for discontinuation of coal-fired electricity production in the Western Balkans, as well as urgent improvements in pollution control for those plants during their remaining years of service”, said Davor Pehchevski, Balkan air pollution campaign coordinator, from Bankwatch. “Making coal an energy source of the past will be an enormous benefit to Western Balkan countries seeking to improve their populations’ health. It would also help in their aspirations for EU membership, and set a course for an all-inclusive transition away from all fossil fuels for the entire EU and Energy Community region in the coming decades.”

CREA and Bankwatch are calling on the European Commission Directorate-General for Energy to ensure stronger, effective and dissuasive enforcement tools for penalising breaches to the Energy Community Treaty, in particular non-compliance regarding LCPD.

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