New report – deadly legal breaches by Western Balkan coal plants increased in 2022

In 2022, deadly air pollution from the Western Balkans’ coal power plants increased compared to 2021, according to the fifth edition of Bankwatch’s Comply or Close report, published today (1). Emissions of all three regulated pollutants – sulphur dioxide (SO2), dust and nitrogen oxides (NOx) grew, and for the first time, the region’s overall limit for NOx was breached.

Five years since pollution control rules came into force under the Energy Community Treaty, SO2 emissions from coal plants included in the National Emissions Reduction Plans (NERPs)(2) of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia were still collectively 5.6 times as high as allowed.

Dust emissions also increased compared to 2021, and in 2022 were in total nearly 1.8 times as high as allowed. NOx slightly exceeded the sum of the countries’ ceilings due to a lack of pollution control investments, increased emissions and tighter year-on-year limits in the NERPs.

For the first time since the rules entered force, North Macedonia’s Bitola B1+2 had the highest SO2 and dust emissions in the region – and both almost doubled compared to 2021. Its SO2 pollution reached 111 408 tonnes – 17 times as much as allowed, and it single-handedly breached the total regional limit for SO2. The reasons for this drastic increase are not clear, but the use of a different kind of coal may have contributed.

Long-term offenders Ugljevik in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kostolac B in Serbia continued to massively breach SO2 limits despite having desulphurisation equipment in place. It is still unclear whether technical issues or attempts by the operators to save money and increase production are to blame.

Dust emissions from the Gacko plant in Bosnia and Herzegovina remained alarmingly high in 2022 – 12 times as much as allowed. The plant operator has also recently announced plans to burn refuse-derived fuel, i.e. waste, in the plant.

In addition to the NERP breaches, all three Western Balkan countries with coal power plants subject to an ‘opt-out’ derogation limiting their operating hours are now violating this provision. Montenegro’s Pljevlja plant has been operating illegally since late 2020, when it exceeded the allocated 20 000 hours allowed after 1 January 2018. In 2022, it was joined by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Tuzla 4 and Kakanj 5 units, as well as Serbia’s Morava plant, which also operated beyond their 20 000 hours limits. All the plants continue to operate.

The Energy Community Secretariat has opened a number of dispute settlement cases against the countries (3) and last week (4) a new complaint was submitted by the Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI) from Serbia and Bankwatch regarding the Morava plant’s illegal operation.

By the end of June, all the countries also need to submit National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), outlining their plans for greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2030 – which will also need to include their plans for coal plant closures.

Ioana Ciuta, Energy Coordinator at Bankwatch – ‘Two contradictory trends are currently underway: The region’s antiquated coal plants are increasingly unreliable, but the energy crisis has distracted governments and utilities even further from a sustainable energy transition. At the moment ‘close’ looks much more likely than ‘comply’, and there’s an increasing danger that this will be uncontrolled. All the countries need to show in their NECPs that they have a plan, but in most cases not even a draft has been publicly available so far.’

Davor Pehchevski, Pollution Campaigner at Bankwatch  ‘The pollution levels in the Western Balkans are utterly unacceptable. The governments must finally get a grip on the situation and stop letting energy utilities make their own rules. The need to cut pollution and ramp up energy efficiency and sustainable forms of renewable energy is greater than ever. Due to the lack of timely action in previous years, everything needs to be done at double speed now.’ 

June 28, 2023

Originally published by Bankwatch Network

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    By: Bankwatch Network

    CEE Bankwatch Network is an international non-profit organisation working to make sure that public money spent by international financial institutions (IFIs) is used for socially and environmentally sound projects. Bankwatch consists of member organisations from 14 countries across central and eastern Europe.

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