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Cheap electricity and jobs keep Serbia tied to coal

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Serbia relies on coal for around 70 percent of its electricity.

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Serbia relies on coal for around 70 percent of its electricity.

The Kolubara coal mine in Serbia never closes: 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, excavators work around the clock, chipping away at the ground to extract the fossil fuel.

Although most of the world is abandoning the use of coal due to the pollution that comes with it, Serbia continues to rely on it, relying on coal for around 70 percent of its consumption. .

This fuel guarantees low electricity prices and creates thousands of jobs in this poor Balkan country.

Besides coal, a quarter of Serbia’s electricity comes from hydroelectric plants, with the rest coming from hydroelectric plants. .

Coal mined at Kolubara would power enough power stations to produce half of the country’s electricity, with more than 11,000 workers employed to extract between 26 and 27 million tonnes of coal each year.

Electricity prices are significantly lower in Serbia than in much of Europe: in June, a kWh cost 0.096 euros, a third of the European Union average of 0.289.

Serbian populist President Aleksandar Vucic often mentions low electricity prices in his speeches.

However, Serbia has come under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to increase prices and has seen three tariff hikes this year.

“Ongoing increases in electricity and gas tariffs have helped reduce tax subsidies and will be key to financing essential energy investments in the years to come,” the IMF said in a press release in June.

“Divine gift”

Get away from is expected to be a key discussion topic at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai next month.

But in countries like Serbia, which have relied on coal for decades and have limited resources for the investments needed to shift to greener alternatives, abandoning the energy source still seems like a distant project.

“For years, coal has been considered a kind of divine gift in our “, Hristina Vojvodic, from the Regulatory Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment (RERI), told AFP.

Serbia adopted the Emissions Reduction Plan (NERP) in 2020 and pledged to completely “decarbonize” by 2050. But the share of coal in electricity generation has not changed much since then.

“The country has no real plans to exit coal. Plans and strategies are being developed, but when it comes to exiting coal, the decisions are not there,” said Vojvodic.


Serbian populist President Aleksandar Vucic often mentions low electricity prices in his speeches.

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Serbian populist President Aleksandar Vucic often mentions low electricity prices in his speeches.

She said Serbia had also committed to reducing coal use by up to a quarter by 2030.

“It could mean five percent. It could mean 20 percent. We don’t know,” said the lawyer, whose institute last year managed to have a court in Belgrade recognize the harmful role thermal power plants on health.

The court also ordered EPS, the state-owned electricity company, to reduce its (SO2) because of the threat they represent to health and the environment.

Pollution

In 2022, SO2 emissions from coal were five to six times higher than the permitted limit for all thermal power plants in the country, according to the source.

“We have nothing against switching to green energy, which is better for health and the environment, and which would also provide better working conditions for miners,” said Vladimir Radosavljevic, vice-president of the United Trade Unions of Serbia -Sloga, who is responsible for the industrial sector.

But “the energy sector employs a large number of people here, particularly in large mines, and abandons would lead to many layoffs,” he said.

Serbian President Vucic said in 2021 that the country “will not run away” from its thermal capacities and promised miners they would have jobs for at least the next three decades.

For the moment, no layoffs are in sight and Serbia is expected to open a new unit of its Kostolac coal-fired power plant in the coming months, thanks to Chinese financing, as well as an extension of the Drmno power plant. mine.

It is not known when the new block, called “B3”, will open.

But Vojvodic said his organization learned testing had been underway since January.

“We became aware of this a few days ago: residents called us to tell us that they were extremely worried because they saw black smoke coming from the chimney. We requested documents and we discovered that tests were in progress.”

B3 is equipped with a desulfurization unit, but “the figures speak for themselves: even with it, emissions are higher” than Serbia’s commitments, she says.

In Kolubara, there is talk of a possible relocation of the mine and the infrastructure surrounding it.

“To be honest, we don’t know if Serbia plans to further expand its mines,” Vojvodic said.

“The Ministry of Construction is considering new facilities, the Ministry of Mines and Energy says it’s not possible and the Ministry of Environment has nothing to say. So we don’t know what the projects.”

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