As Europe tries to quit fossil fuels, PPC burns more

Millions of tons of carbon dioxide, acid rain, a bombardment of microparticles and radioactive pollution are about to enter the atmosphere over Greece, even as Europe’s major hard coal producers are planning to shut down the sector within the next 10-15 years. As the world gears up to fight the threat of climate change, the government, Public Power Corporation (PPC) and private firms are planning the construction of major new power plants using imported hard coal. The president of the Public Utilities Organization (DEKO) even claims that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but a gas used in soft drinks. So far applications have been made for a 600-megawatt unit at Aspra Spitia in Viotia (by Mytilineos), 460 MW at Mantoudi on the island of Evia (GEK-Terna), 600 MW at Astakos, in Aitoloacarnania (Edison-ELPE), and 800 MW at Aliveri (PPC), also on Evia. The Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE) has already approved the first two. Meanwhile, PPC, in cooperation with the German firm RWE (with the worst pollution record in Europe), is planning to build a 1,600 MW plant either at Almyro in Magnesia or Nea Karvali, Kavala. PPC’s plans also include a new 800 MW coal plant in Larymna. That is, a total of 4,860 MW is to be produced by the combustion of hard coal. The projected total installed capacity is 14,000 MW and units scheduled for replacement total 2,880 MW. If one includes the two new 900 MW lignite plants in Florina and Ptolemaida (and possibly two more in Elassona and Drama), it is clear that the most polluting fuels will form the basis of Greece’s energy production. The main arguments put forward by the government and proponents of hard coal is that it is a cheap and plentiful fuel that will increase the diversity of energy sources and reduce the country’s dependence on others. They claim it is less polluting than lignite. In fact, it will only increase Greece’s dependence, as the hard coal is to be imported (probably from China and Ukraine). Meanwhile, the price will be at the mercy of international markets, not to mention the cost of the irreversible damage to the environment and human health. There is no simple answer to the problem of energy needs, but it can only be faced by reducing consumption and waste and by rapidly developing the renewable energy sources of which this country has plentiful supplies. Why ‘no’ to coal? Over 24 million tons of carbon dioxide will be emitted by the six units planned. Hard coal is twice as polluting as natural gas (0.70 tons CO2/MWh vs 0.35 tons CO2/MWh), according to Giorgos Gaidantzis, associate professor at Thrace Technical University, although slightly less so than lignite (0.90 tons CO2/MWh). According to a survey by a citizens’ committee in Mantoudi, the proposed hard coal units will produce 24 million tons of CO2 a year, that is 21 percent of what Greece produced in 1990. When Greece has already overshot the emission levels it is supposed to have in 2012, apart from the cost from the harm done to the environment, the country will have to pay heavy fines. n The risk of death from microparticles. A plant that burns coal bombards the area around it with sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen cyanide and other gases, as well as deadly airborne particles. «Just one lignite-fired PPC unit releases 200 kilos of airborne ash into the atmosphere every minute it is operating,» Gaidantzis said. n These plants produce acid rain, which destroys crops and has a harmful effect generally on the environment and human health (skin and respiratory diseases). Traces of mercury are also released, a neurotoxic metal that concentrates in the food chain. n The waste from these power plants is more radioactive than that from nuclear power stations, according to the science magazine Scientific American. Airborne ash from burning coal is 100 more radioactive than nuclear waste. n Effects on the environment: Wherever there is a coal-fired plant, the surrounding area deteriorates. Huge port facilities are required to serve ships bringing the coal into relatively enclosed marine ecosystems. Moreover, large areas will be required to store the coal (if these are outdoors, they will produce dust) and store byproducts that contain substances such as arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, sulfur, cadmium, barium, chromium, copper and mercury. Huge quantities of sea water are required to cool the installations, and is returned to the sea at temperatures of 50-60 Celsius, disturbing the ecological balance. This article first appeared in the March issue of Kathimerini’s color supplement ECO.