ATHENS – Soaring energy prices bringing state subsidies and uncertainty about Russian supplies means Greece’s mix of alternatives will include going back to firing up coal plants despite a pledge to end lignite use by 2023.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had blamed climate change in which burning coal plays a part on disastrous wildfires that swept the country in the summer of 2021 during a blistering heat wave.
But now Greece – which hasn’t yet fully capitalized on solar or wind power despite an abundance of sun and sea breezes – will maximize coal despite complaints from environmental groups.
Coal plants are used to generate electricity, whose prices have nearly doubled, and while European Union sanctions exempted Russian oil and gas, there is worry that Russian supplies will start to dry up this winter.
Greece’s state-run Public Power Corporation PPC has already frozen its scheme to stop using coal, said Kathimerini, with Greece also turning to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG,) and getting gas from Azerbaijan through a pipeline from Bulgaria – and nuclear energy from Bulgarian plants.
But coal, a 19th Century energy producer still being used in the 21st Century, will be a major driving force to keep the lights on and the power going in Greece, with no timetable for its stop.
Mitsotakis in April gave the order to increase mine production of coal by 50 percent and Environment and Energy Minister Kostas Skrekas gave instructions to Public Power Corporation to increase lignite’s share in the electricity generation mix to 17-20 percent from 5 percent in 2021.
Within the first 12 days of July, lignite reached a 16.3 percent and natural gas is at 48.6 percent, said the report, noting that the rest of Europe is reacting the same way after also failing to turn to sustainable alternatives.
The newspaper said that Greece will increase coal production by 400 percent and operate PPC’s seven lignite plans every day, after two years of the agency divesting them and now returning to their use.
“If I start digging today I will have an immediate result after six or seven months. You can’t just press a button and get the lignite out. Money is also needed in order to hire equipment and workers,” a PPC official not named told the paper.
The ministry and PPC management are in talks for the return to coal. “The order to increase the ratio of lignite to 17-20 percent of the mixture has been given. How it will be implemented technically is a matter for PPC,” said Skrekas.