Under the weight of Greek debts, coal


Despite the recent closure of Greece's third economic "bailout", the country still faces immense challenges. Entangled in its financial calculations, the government clearly seems to be relegating the energy transition to second place. The third largest producer of coal in Europe, Greece nevertheless illustrates the difficulty of European countries in getting rid of this source of energy belonging to the past and weighing heavily on the future. 2018_image_analyse_grece_gg.jpg Report from Justice and Peace following a mission to Greece organized by the French collective ISF Systext.

In Anargyri, a small village in northern Greece, Andreas [1]The first name used is an assumed first name. crosses a flowery mound of earth supposed to block the road. After discussion with the guard blocking the way, he motioned for us to follow him. We follow suit and soon discover an apocalyptic setting. Fractured road, cracked houses, and barely 100 meters further, emptiness. We overlook the huge Amynteo open-cast mine where a major landslide took place in June 2017. Around 80 million cubic meters of earth fell into the hole, taking with them several machines and covering 25 million tonnes lignite [2]Lignite is a low-rank coal composed of 50 to 60% carbon., for a total of 500 million euros in financial losses. Below, dozens of tiny trucks continue to operate, having resumed their activities, next to the wrecked machines. A historic monopoly Public Power Corporation (PPC) is the public company which exploits lignite in Western Macedonia, in the north of Greece. It is 51% owned by the State and has 70% of installed capacity [3]Installed power means the theoretical maximum electricity production capacity of the entire fleet of power plants of a given type, or in a given country. Greek. The share of the country's electricity production based on lignite is 45% and 86% of PPC's electricity from this fuel comes from the 19 power plants of the Western Macedonia mining basin. The company employs 5,000 workers there, including 3,000 through subcontractors. Lignite is the only source of energy that Greece has, which for the rest is dependent on foreign sources. Lignite is exploited mainly in open-cast mines to generate electricity. Extraction involves removing the top layer of the earth and then, using explosives and colossal machines, digging deeper and deeper until you reach the blackest rock possible, lignite. Greece is the third largest producer in Europe, after Germany and Poland. “Lignite is expensive and dirty and our Greek lignite is not of good quality,” tells us Lazaros Tsikritzis, councilor at the town hall of Kozani, capital of Western Macedonia. Thermal power plants in which crushed lignite is burned [4]The process involves burning ground lignite into dust at 1400 degrees so that it can heat water which will turn into steam at high pressure and cause the... Continue reading emit different pollutants: CO2 (1/3 of the CO2 emitted in Greece comes from the exploitation of lignite) but also sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and fine particles. “Our industry is one of the 5 most polluting industries in Europe. It is equivalent to the emissions of 6 million cars every day,” notes Lazaros. For nearly 20 years, PPC exceeded the levels of fine particles authorized by the European Union. An effort was made in 1997 but this remains insufficient to comply with European standards. Alongside the technical improvements made, the reduction in air pollution can also be explained by the economic crisis that Greece has suffered since 2008, which has led to a reduction in household consumption. In addition, new European directives and legislation in the fight against global warming, as well as carbon offsets, make the exploitation of lignite less profitable. Peak production was reached in 2004 and production has already fallen by half between 2009 and 2016. However, 46% of direct jobs in the region depend on PPC. “We must begin the transition and rehabilitation of exploited areas. We have already lost a lot of time, not to mention the impacts we are bearing,” explains Lazaros. If nothing changes, these different ingredients portend an industrial (and ecological) catastrophe in Western Macedonia. A mixed result Not far from Anargyri, we discover the village of Valtonera. We meet locals there who show us the damage caused by the mine located about 2 km away. Cracks in the walls of houses, collapse of land, dented floors, the villagers are unhappy: “out of 200 inhabitants, 50 to 60 left the village in 2017,” Piero tells us. [5]This first name is an assumed first name.. A few families have received money from a compensation fund but they are few in number. What is certain is that the company refuses to take responsibility for this irreversible damage. However, it is very likely that the company's actions explain these phenomena: first of all, the vibrations caused by daily explosions 2 km from the village; then, the pumping of groundwater which creates depressions and destabilizes the soil. Despite the risk of collapse, the villagers do not want to leave their homes and are waiting for support from the State. As these two villages are not located in PPC's mining concession, they cannot benefit from relocation unlike 8 other villages already relocated by the company. “Those who have coal under their house are relocated but those who only suffer from the impacts are not,” explains Lazaros. The impact on water represents another point of tension between the company, the population and local political authorities. The company in fact needs large quantities of water (5000 m3/h) to produce the steam which will drive the turbine of the power plants, the rotation of which is transformed into electrical energy, as well as to then cool this steam. Alongside this use, “PPC destroys groundwater to access coal and it does not recognize responsibility for this damage,” Lazaros Tsikritzis tells us. This dispute led Kozani town hall to sue PPC in 2016 for destroying drinking water reserves, among other things. [6]The other main reason for the lawsuit was that the new “Ptolemaida V” plant operational in 2020/2021 will not use the most advanced depollution technologies and will not… Continue reading. Toxic substances as well as fly ash [7]Fly ash is the toxic residue from coal combustion. had been found in the water. “We lost the case. The Court of Justice told us that it was not his problem,” continues Lazaros. To operate the thermal power plants, PPC pumps 72 million m³ annually into the Aliakmon River, the longest Greek river. In comparison, 43 million m3 are consumed by the 300,000 inhabitants of Western Macedonia. PPC also sometimes diverts rivers in order to exploit the land beneath them. Lack of coherence in Europe Dependence on coal is not unique to Greece. In 2016, coal represented the second largest source of global energy after oil. In terms of electricity production, coal remains in first position. In both cases, it is the most polluting energy source. And global energy demand continues to grow as the world population and per capita income increase. According to EIA projections [8]International Energy Agency., fossil fuels could still represent 80% of the global energy mix in 2040. In this perspective, CO2 emissions would increase by 34% compared to 2012 while limiting global warming to 2° requires, according to the IPCC, to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases from 40 to 70% by 2050. To keep the warming of our planet at +2°, the European Union has set itself the objective of reducing its gas emissions greenhouse effect from 80 to 95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. The EU has pushed back to 2030 the framework that it had initially set for 2020 around different objectives: energy efficiency, increase in the share of renewable energies, reduction in GHG emissions. A (too) slow transition to a low-carbon economy has begun. Reducing dependence on coal is part of this strategy. In 2016, the European Union launched its “clean energy for all Europeans” package which is part of the union's energy strategy. As part of this package, the European Commission created in November 2017 a platform for coal regions in transition. A pilot project was launched in Western Macedonia in this context [9]This involves, among other things, soil restoration through experimentation with orchard plantations.. The EU also commits to removing subsidies for fossil fuels, including coal. Unfortunately, under pressure from Greece in particular, the European Council agreed to extend subsidies for existing coal plants until 2035. All member states are also responsible for creating national energy and climate plans. A first version of these plans was to be submitted in December 2017. That of Greece was poorly developed. Alongside these objectives, the European Union reveals an incoherent attitude towards Greece. In their third economic adjustment program (2015), European institutions required Greece to sell PPC shares to foreign investors, claiming that the involvement of other companies would increase the competitiveness of the energy market which could ultimately lead to more advantageous prices for consumers. “With these new foreign investments, the electric model based on lignite will continue and this will delay the transition to a more sustainable energy model,” laments Lazaros. At the same time, the absurd construction of a new mega-lignite power plant “Ptolemaida V [10]The latter would be operational in 2020/2021. » supported by PPC and the Greek government confirms the determination to continue down a dead end path. Towards the transition? “Lignite has an end and that end is near! » proclaims Lazaros. In Western Macedonia, 45% of GDP comes from PPC production as well as 46% from direct employment. Knowing that lignite production will continue to decline, it is imperative to think about the post-lignite era. How to make the leap to a low-carbon economy? This is the question that torments the local authorities of Kozani. They are considering the ingredients needed to restore closed mine lunar sites. And to the mechanisms which, on their scale, would allow them to regain control over their destiny. But the supervision of the European Union prevents complete freedom of action and the lack of support from the Greek state is evident. WWF Greece has been interested in this mining basin for several years and has published a detailed roadmap on the measures to be put in place for a sustainable future. This “Green Plan” would reorient the region’s economic activities towards agriculture and create 5,500 jobs. An alternative is therefore possible. According to Kozani town hall, conditions are necessary for this change: relocation of two villages, recovery of land from former PPC mines, professional retraining and financial funds. More than a problem linked solely to Greece, the exit from coal presents itself as a major issue of our time. The European Union must adopt a coherent policy in this regard in order to truly initiate an energy transition and face the imperatives of global warming. Citizen pressure can/must remind our decision-makers of their commitments and the importance of solidarity in the EU which today is too often lacking. Geraldine Duquenne



1 The first name used is an assumed first name.
2 Lignite is a low-rank coal composed of 50 to 60% carbon.
3 Installed power means the theoretical maximum electricity production capacity of the entire fleet of power plants of a given type, or in a given country.
4 The process consists of burning the crushed lignite in the form of dust at 1400 degrees so that it can heat the water which will transform into steam at high pressure and drive the turbine whose rotation will be transformed into electrical energy.
5 This first name is an assumed first name.
6 The other main reason for the lawsuit was that the new “Ptolemaida V” plant operational in 2020/2021 will not use the most advanced depollution technologies and therefore does not respect the Greek National Transition Plan.
7 Fly ash is the toxic residue from coal combustion.
8 International Energy Agency.
9 This involves, among other things, soil restoration through experimentation with orchard plantations.
10 The latter would be operational in 2020/2021.

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