Romania commits to phase out coal by 2032

Exhaust towers from the coal-fired power plant CET South belonging to the Power Plant Commercial Company Bucharest in Romania [ROBERT GHEMENT / EPA-EFE]

Romania will exit coal by 2032 at the latest and pass a law by mid-2022 to address the closure of mines and adopt socio-economic measures to support coal communities and the reskilling of workers, according to the country’s official recovery plan.

The document, adopted on Thursday (3 June), plans for an increase in the share of renewable energy sources in Romania’s energy mix, through investments in onshore and offshore wind electricity generation, in parallel with the removal of coal from the energy mix by 2032.

The plan is to set up a Coal Commission, like the Czech Republic and Germany have, to decide how to exit coal, so the details of the transition are yet to be fully worked out.

However, it means Romania joins the majority of EU countries that have already set a date for phasing out climate-polluting coal. 14 EU member states have already stopped using coal or have committed to do so before 2030.

With a date of 2032, Romania is not the most ambitious EU country when it comes to ditching coal, although it is several years ahead of Europe’s heaviest coal users – Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany.

The energy minister, Virgil Popescu, is yet to comment on the coal phase-out since the publication of the plan, but said last week, “We started the energy system restructuring, we are already working on it and, for the first time, we reached a deal on a phase-out for coal, namely phase-out of bituminous coal by 2030, with the greening works finished in 2032.”

Merkel rejects bringing forward Germany’s exit from coal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday (15 May) rejected calls to bring forward the country’s exit date for coal in power generation, currently set at 2038.

Romania’s coal usage has declined since 1990, in parallel with an increase in nuclear power and natural gas, which is today the country’s main energy source.

The EU carbon market has also added costs for power companies still reliant on coal. CE Oltenia, the state-owned power company currently providing 90% of Romania’s coal-fired electricity, has required several cash injections to cover carbon costs related to the EU’s emissions trading scheme.

“Surging carbon permit prices and the boom of renewables has brought us to this point. Those trends are only going to intensify, so there’s no way Romania’s coal industry will hang on until 2032,” said Mahi Sideridou, managing director at Europe Beyond Coal, an environmental pressure group.

“We welcome the government’s decision to plan a coal exit, but it needs to align with the Paris climate agreement and the EU’s Green Deal, and that means phasing out coal by 2030 at the latest,” said Vlad Cătună, an energy campaigner at Greenpeace.

“The government also needs to forget the idea of pivoting to fossil gas. Romania has a valuable opportunity to leapfrog to a cheaper, cleaner renewables-based energy system. The government’s fossil gas plans threaten to completely undermine that,” he added.

Romania’s recovery plan, submitted to the European Commission in order to access its portion of the EU’s €750 billion recovery fund, highlights the need to increase the country’s share of renewable energy in tandem with the coal phase-out.

The plan also contains measures to prevent the negative impacts of the transition out of coal, including using the EU’s just transition fund and revising Romania’s national energy strategy.

It proposes six reforms and six main investments, the budget for which it says will be €1.62 billion. Those include electricity market reform, developing legislation for future technologies like hydrogen, reducing energy intensity and decarbonising the heating sector.

Europe halfway towards closing all coal power plants by 2030

Half of Europe’s 324 coal-fuelled power plants have either closed or announced a retirement date before 2030, it emerged on Monday (22 March) when French power utility EDF announced the 162nd plant will close in 2022.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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