Illustrations: © Shutterstock – PytY and © Shutterstock – Alzbeta

Europe still building new coal power stations

Several countries in Europe have recently built or are planning to build new coal power stations. Some examples from Germany were described in the last issue of Acid News (AN2/2018), and further examples of such plants from Eastern Europe are presented here.

Turów and Bełchatów, Poland

In south-west Poland at Turów, PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna began construction of a 450 MW lignite plant in May 2015 to complement the existing six 250 MW turbines. Originally scheduled for completion in 2018, the new block will now be entering service in the second quarter of 2020.

Europe’s largest lignite power station at Bełchatów, with 5,354 MW of generation capacity has been modernised for extended operation. All major lignite sites are prepared for CCS retrofits if necessitated by EU decarbonisation strategies, with CO2 storage intended under the Baltic Sea.

A projected 100 km2 lignite surface mining site is undergoing preliminary licensing at Gubin-Brody across the Neisse River from the German Jänschwalde power station. Annual production of 17 Mt is planned over 49 years from seams 140 m deep. If the project application is approved, PGE intends to erect three 830 MW generation plants for operation beginning in 2030.

In Poland and the Czech Republic, over 40% of the building infrastructure is provided by heating energy from lignite and coal power plants. In the case of Poland, hard coal is used to supply 43% of overall heating demand, compared to 12.9% for lignite. The Czech Republic produces four times the networked heating energy per inhabitant of Germany.

In the future, coal-related emissions may be reduced in municipal heating systems by substituting surplus thermal energy from alternative sources such as waste incinerators, recycled industrial heat, subway tunnels, and excess renewable power. 

New coal generation at Kozienice, Poland

On 19 December 2017, Kozienice became the largest and most modern hard coal generating site in Europe with the addition of the €1.5 billion 1,075 MW generator block B11 by the state energy company Enea. The facility as a whole has a capacity of nearly 4,000 MW, requiring three million metric tons of coal annually.

For Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, the new plant exemplifies the need to “increase the energy security of Poland and the Polish people, which is an economic and political priority for our country”.  Domestic lignite and hard coal currently fulfill 56% of total energy demand in Poland and account for nearly 90% of electrical power generation. 

Opole, Poland

The construction of two supercritical 900 MW blocks 5 and 6 has been completed by PGE Opole in south-western Poland to realise the country’s second-largest hard coal installation and supplement the existing 1,532 MW four-block power station. Unit 5 is due to enter commercial service in 2018 and block 6 the following year.

Lignite power plant at Ledvice, Czech Republic

After the revocation of lignite excavation limits imposed in 1991 by Parliamentary Resolution 444, mining operations are being prolonged from 2036 to 2049 at Bílina to supply an additional 100 Mt of lignite to the newly constructed Ledvice 660 MW power plant. The single-generator design expands the existing 330 MW electrical capacity while distributing heat to 300 commercial customers and 20,000 private households at Ledvice as well as in Teplice and Bílina. The original planned operational date of 2012 has been repeatedly delayed, notably due to the replacement of faulty T24 steel boiler segments and subsequent equipment malfunctions. The thermal energy contracted since 2015 for local district heating services has meanwhile been supplied by a provisional gas-fired boiler.

Since the 1990s, the Czech semi-state energy corporation ČEZ has also upgraded its existing power plant fleet, beginning with the desulphurisation of 6,462 MW of installed lignite capacity. The Tušimice II (4 x 200 MW) and Prunéřov II (5 x 210 MW) power stations have been completely refurbished for generation until at least 2040.  

Balkan lignite dependency

Lignite significantly contributes to domestic energy security in the former Yugoslav states. Mining has been terminated in Croatia, but the Balkan region otherwise remains dedicated to lignite usage. The heating values available in Slovenia (11.3 MJ/kg) and Serbia (7.8–8.2 MJ/kg) are comparable with northern European grades.
Power plant expansions await approval at Kolubaru (2 x 375 MW) in Serbia as well as near Přistina (450 MW) in Kosovo, where Europe’s fourth-largest lignite resources (after Poland, Germany, and Serbia) are located. Sensitive environmental information has already become available in the evaluation phase, with arsenic and cadmium determined above threshold inhalation levels in PM10 particles of airborne dust from power plants and surface mines.
Serbia produces half of its total primary energy from lignite. Electricity is used to cover nearly one third of thermal energy demand, followed by 27% district heating and nearly one-fifth biomass firing. Lignite power generation could therefore be progressively replaced by renewable energies, including expanded hydropower capacities, without the intermediate use of natural gas.
The recently approved ContourGlobal lignite power plant at Přistina is a new single-block design that replaces an earlier proposal for two 300 MW blocks. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis has determined, however, that the plant could present a “barrier to competition from lower-cost renewable energy technologies” in Kosovo owing to contract terms that are exceptionally favourable to ContourGlobal. In addition to cost reimbursements for fuel and corporate taxes with only negligible performance penalties, a return on investment of 18.5% is guaranteed. Availability payments covering a wide range of incurred expenses would be paid “regardless of whether electricity is even dispatched”. At best, it may be surmised that Kosovo’s extensive lignite reserves provide a degree of debt security that has not yet been attained by the country’s economy as a whole.

Jeffrey Michel


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