Greece will boost coal mining by 50% and extend the operation of all its lignite-fired power plants to 2028, instead of closing them down by 2023 as previously planned, to reduce dependence on natural gas, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Wednesday.
The country’s state-run power utility PPC had pledged to shut down all but one of its coal-fired plants by 2023 and switch to a new, more efficient coal-fired unit (Ptolemaida 5) due to open later this year to a cleaner fuel by 2025.
This was part of Mitsotakis’ ambitious National Energy and Climate Plan presented in September 2019 to phase coal out of its electricity mix by 2028 at the latest.
“For the next two years, it certainly makes sense to increase energy production from lignite, maximizing, increasing by 50% its extraction in order to reduce our dependence on natural gas in the short term,” Mitsotakis said at the inauguration of a 204.3-megawatt photovoltaic park by Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), Greece’s biggest oil refiner, in Kozani.
“It is a temporary measure,” he said, while noting that “in this new environment, it is also certain that the new unit, which is being built by PPC, will operate as a lignite unit in the coming years [until 2028].”
Lignite, he said, is expensive and pollutes and under normal conditions is much more expensive than natural gas.
“It is more expensive than renewable energy sources due to the very high emissions costs,” he said, noting that “it was the war of this magnitude that led to natural gas prices soaring, making it cheaper to temporarily – and I stress temporarily – produce energy from lignite,” he said.
Moreover, he added that if some of the more modern but still quite old PPC units need to remain in operation, such as Melitis or Agios Dimitrios 5, “it is something that will be evaluated according to the needs of the moment, but also according to the prices and the availability of natural gas.”
Mitsotakis said that “in no case” will these changes affect Greece’s announced goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050.
Earlier, two sources from PPC told Reuters the company plans to increase coal extraction this year to make sure there are no power shortages in the event Russia halts gas supplies to Greece.