27 Oct 2021

Energy Crisis Sends Western Balkans Back to Coal

27 Oct 2021  by   

Both Serbia and North Macedonia are raising coal power generation in response to the energy crisis that has seen electricity prices soar.

This is despite commitments from governments across the Western Balkans – where five of the six EU-aspiring countries have significant coal generation capacity – to bring down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and invest into renewable capacity.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced on October 23 that Serbia will attempt to complete the overhaul of Block B1 of the Nikola Tesla thermal power plant (TPP) by December, in order to increase production by 650 MW.

Speaking at the opening of the Cukaru Peki mine, Vucic commented that the energy situation in the world is “terrible”.

“We will try to complete the B1 block of the Nikola Tesla thermal power plant by December in order to increase production by 650 megawatts, in order to reduce the price of electricity,” Vucic said, the newspaper Danas reported.

Serbia has pledged to reduce its carbon emission levels to meet EU standards, which includes reducing or abandoning coal as fuel to produce power and heat, and replacing them with renewable capacity. Serbia says it is targeting 40% renewables in its energy mix, but for the moment remains heavily dependent on coal and it has been building new coal capacity.

In North Macedonia, the government said that in order to ensure the stability of the power system, the second unit of the REK Bitola TPP has been brought into operation, and both units are now working.

"There is no need for the citizens to be afraid of lack of electricity, because ESM provided sufficient quantities of electricity for households at a price of €36 per MWh, which is four to five times lower than the price on the international market," the government said in a statement on October 25. ESM currently meets the needs of the universal supplier EVN Home for the supply of households, it added.

Earlier this month, ESM called a tender to supply coal for the operations of two TPPs, but the offered quantities were not sufficient and another tender will be announced.

The procurement of coal is the first measure that has been taken by the country to deal with the energy crisis that has gripped Europe and caused electricity prices to skyrocket. PM Zoran Zaev said earlier that the price of electricity will not be changed at least until the New Year.

It was also reported on October 24 that North Macedonia’s state-run power transmission operator MEPSO made unannounced intrusions into the European network on several occasions in a one-month period.

"MEPSO has so far received four warnings about these intrusions into the European network from the centre in Switzerland, where the calculations are made. MEPSO should pay back €15mn for the 'borrowed' electricity just for one month," Sitel reported, citing MEPSO’s director Kushtrim Ramadani.

The Western Balkan countries are under pressure to replace coal capacity with cleaner forms of power generation as they work towards accession to the EU. However, even before the current crisis this was a politically difficult task, given the large role coal plays in the energy mix and the communities that depend on the coal industry for their livelihoods.

Ageing coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans are responsible for air pollution both in the region and outside its borders. Air pollution from coal power plants has caused the deaths of around 19,000 people over the last three years, according to a report from CEE Bankwatch Network and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

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