Environmental dilemma in Ptolemaida

The Public Power Corporation (PPC) installations are poisoning their environment but the firm doesn’t want to reduce production by even a single kilowatt. Residents of the Ptolemaida-Kozani-Amyntaio region in northern Greece have lived for years in an environment polluted by lignite mines and the PPC’s 18 power plants. A recent PPC proposal for a reduction in the use of lignite and the release of a report by German firm Booz Allen Hamilton suggest the closure of some installations has caused divisions within the local communities. For the past 50 years, PPC has been using an 18-hectare area to produce electricity. Representatives of prefectural and local government, unionists and residents are accusing the corporation of «trying to stop using lignite 15 years before they are supposed to.» They also say it has reneged on its promise to restore damaged soil and that after «bleeding the earth dry for the sake of profit and cheap power, they now want to throw it away like a squeezed lemon.» «We are considering using a blend of fuel and lignite, hard coal and natural gas so as to be more competitive when the energy market opens up,» said the corporation’s general director of mines, Constantinos Melas. Assurances from PPC executives and recent promises by its CEO Panayiotis Athanassopoulos do not appear to have convinced most of the workers and residents, whose representatives fear for the energy heart of Greece and warn they will take firm action. A committee representing the local community, a group in Kozani set up to negotiate with the company, is calling for the restoration of the landscape destroyed by the lignite mines, greater job security and the rational exploitation of lignite reserves with investments in new non-polluting units that will continue operations after 2047. Lignite vs coal «People have a real concern that PPC will withdraw investment from the area and are also very worried about the environmental problems,» said Kozani Prefect Giorgos Dakis. «We want PPC to do everything it hasn’t done so far for the environment by means of a specific investment program. We know that the lignite in our area is absolutely competitive,» he said, commenting on PPC’s apparent plan to switch to hard coal in new plants in southern Greece. PPC’s Regional Workers’ Union branch in Ptolemaida agrees with this view. «The union has begun a campaign to brief staff and local residents,» said the union’s president, Giorgos Adamidis. He believes there will be stiff opposition from the local community if 3,500 jobs are lost by 2015. Unionists believe that data showing hard coal to be more competitive than lignite are artificial (they attribute the emphasis placed on hard coal as due to the energy policy of other countries competing with Russia’s natural gas). «I believe that PPC will take the necessary immediate steps needed to restore and protect the environment (such as landscaping, tree planting, creating fields.)» «People’s tolerance is at an end,» added Dakis. «»Our community cannot survive within this ecological disaster zone.» «The corporation’s long-term, large-scale activity in the prefecture (a total 4,500 megawatts from 18 plants, the daily excavation of over a million cubic meters of earth and the annual pumping of 100 million tons of water from the Polyphyto Dam, and the employment of 7,500 staff at a total cost in monthly wages of 12.5 million euros) has created many social problems,» said Kyriakos Michailidis, the mayor of Ypsilanti. «Despite the transfer of settlements, the residents of another 10 communities continue to suffer from noise, falling ash and pollutants, and their properties have been completely devalued.» The region’s microclimate has changed, the water table lost through the extraction of lignite. «Fifteen years ago,» added Michailidis, «we were getting drinking water at a depth of 2 meters. Our last drill was down to 420 meters.» According to Dakis, the five points agreed upon by Athanassopoulos during his latest visit to Kozani (replacement by 2011 of one Ptolemaida plant with a 450 MW one with new anti-polluting technology, the resettlement of Pontokomi and Mavropigi, a restoration program and a natural gas unit) were not enough.