EU shouldn’t allow Greek violation of environmental legislation

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Matzaris: The real question is whether the Institutions, currently negotiating the lignite sale with the Greek government, are actually willing to discuss the doubling of the operating hours for the two lignite plants. [Shutterstock]

It is no secret that the Public Power Corporation (PPC) heavily influences the Greek government, but the EU institutions should step in to prevent a violation of European environmental legislation, writes Nikos Mantzaris.

Nikos Mantzaris is an energy and climate policy expert at WWF Greece.

PPC’s influence explains, to a great extent,  both the intense two-year effort of the Greek side to obtain free emission allowances as part of the ETS reform in order to subsidise the operation of its lignite plants, and the past request to extend the life of Ptolemaida III, the oldest and one of the dirtiest lignite plants in terms of dust emissions.

The failure of both efforts was not deterring for the next try. Since late 2015, the Greek government has been pushing very hard to almost double the operating hours of two other lignite plants (Kardia and Amyntaio) from 17.500 to 32.000.

The government’s request to the European Commission for this extended operation has missed the corresponding deadline set by the Industrial Emissions Directive by almost two years. However, this “minor” delay can be safely viewed as a misdemeanour, once one fully appreciates the audacity of the demand.

First and foremost, both plants’ emissions are near record-breaking. The two oldest units of Kardia emit on average more than 26 times above EU’s new dust limit of the recently adopted Large Combustion Plants Best Reference Documents (LCP BREF).

Amyntaio is a “champion” of sulphur dioxide emissions, emitting on average 6,5 times more than it should. The catastrophic impact of such excess emissions to public health and the environment both in Greece and abroad has been recently documented in the “Dark Cloud” report.

Excess emissions, however, did not seem to constitute a priority for the Greek government.

The European Commission (Directorate General for the Environment) was crystal clear in its answer: The two plants are not eligible for 32.000 hours of operation since neither of them satisfies the criteria described in detail in the corresponding article of the Industrial Emissions Directive (article 33, paragraph 4).

Specifically, the Amyntaio plant started operating in 1987, whereas the provision of 32.000 hours of operation applies only to older plants. In addition, none of the four Kardia stacks is above the threshold of 1500 MW for total rated thermal capacity, set as the minimum in order for a plant to be eligible for 32.000 hours of operation between 2016 and 2023.

Yet, the Greek government appears to not have stopped its quest to extend the operating life of its two “black sheep”. It is bypassing the negative answer of one Directorate General of the European Commission and is trying hard to persuade another (DG Competition) in order to embed the “gift” of the 32.000 hours of operation for the two lignite plants, in the deal for selling 40% of PPC’s lignite assets.

The real question is whether the Institutions, currently negotiating the lignite sale with the Greek government, are actually willing to discuss the near doubling of the operating hours for the two lignite plants, even though it clearly violates core European environmental legislation.

Greece’s compliance with the Industrial Emissions Directive should simply be non-negotiable.

Moreover, the Institutions should remove the stranglehold they imposed on Greece’s energy future through the sale of 40% of PPC’s lignite assets, which, if materialized, will bankroll lignite dependency in Greece for decades to come.

On the contrary, Greece should be encouraged to follow the lignite phase out route which, one after another, its EU counterparts have designated, while at the same time financially supporting the lignite regions of Greece for shifting their economies towards sustainable economic activities.

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