Closing the Czech coal industry could cost 25,000 jobs

Steam escapes from the chimneys of the coal-fired power plant in Tusimice, pictured from the village of Vysluni, Czech Republic [Martin Divíšek / EPA-EFE]

The Czech Republic is currently considering how best to use EU green funds to modernise its economy and secure just transition of its three coal mining regions. According to experts, the coal phase-out could result in the loss of 25,000 jobs, but investments in renewables can restore the balance.

Last year, a study presented by the Association for International Affairs said that some 32,000 new jobs would be created in the country if it increased the share of renewable sources in energy consumption to 24%.

Czechia is still largely dependent on coal for 36% of its electricity. According to data from the Ministry of Industry and Trade for 2019, the share of renewable sources in electricity in final consumption is a modest 16.2%.

Coal mines and its directly linked sectors currently employ around 28,000 people. Czech regional universities are already planning special projects to help coal workers retrain.

According to Martin Balej, rector of Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, the university could provide workers with special training on how to operate with new machines.

Employers are also preparing for the transformation. For example, the Czech energy company Sev.en Energy, which employs 6.000 people in posts linked to coal mining, wants to keep as many jobs as possible and create positions in more sustainable business activities.

Se.ven Energy is looking for new business opportunities, especially in the modern energy sector. It would like to build a floating solar power plant on the Marcela reservoir, which lies on the edge of the northern ČSA quarry, along with a hydrogen production plant at the same site.

“If we produce electricity from a photovoltaic power plant, we will be able to decide whether we want to feed it directly into the grid or whether we want to use it to produce hydrogen, which will then find its use in industry,” Se.ven Energy’s CEO Pavel Farkač told EURACTIV.cz.

Sokolovská uhelná, another Czech coal energy company, is also bracing itself for change.

“Energy remains the first pillar, albeit based on non-coal resources. The second is the circular economy, i.e. waste management. The third pillar is real estate and development activities; the fourth is the use of existing capacities, for example in engineering or road transport,” Pavel Poc, a member of the Board of Directors, said of the company’s plans for the future.

As in the case of Se.ven Energy, Sokolovská uhelná’s goal is to retain its employees.

According to Karel Polanecký, an expert from Hnutí duha – Friends of the Earth Czech Republic, the development of renewable sources should be a priority for the Czech energy strategy. Renewables have never been at the top of the agenda for the Czech government, but the situation seems to be changing with the new EU green funding.

A tale of three countries: how Czechia, Germany, and Poland plan to ditch coal

For decades, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic have been at the heart of Europe’s so-called “lignite triangle” which produces most of the continent’s coal-based electricity. But with climate change now a top political priority, the priority is shifting to renewables.

Czechia can use EU funds to build renewables, especially the new Modernisation fund or the Just Transition Fund. As the environment ministry reported, Czech businesses have shown considerable interest in getting support from the Modernisation fund, an EU tool created to help cohesion countries with decarbonisation included in the EU ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme).

Decarbonisation will be particularly challenging for coal and heavily industrialised regions. The EU will finance their decarbonisation, restoration of the landscape affected by mining, the green transformation of industry, and the creation of new innovative companies and jobs, with money from the Modernisation and Just Transition funds.

While the first one’s allocation is dependent on the EU emissions market, allocation from the latter is fixed and should reach around €1.4 billion.

“We cannot think that €1.4 billion from the Just Transition Fund will be sufficient. It is only a fraction of the resources that will need to be mobilised. It is necessary to focus on all possible tools,” said EU lawmaker Ondřej Knotek (ANO, Renew).

“We intend to use all available funds, such as the Modernisation fund, which will be a key tool for the region’s energy transformation,” spokeswoman Nikola Birklenová said on behalf of the Moravian-Silesian Region, one of the Czech coal mining regions.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe