Greece turns to lignite

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Furthermore, the newly added capacity came exclusively from ground mounted systems. “These are all old licensed projects which were completed and connected to the grid recently” Stelios Psomas, policy advisor at the Hellenic Association of Photovoltaic Companies (HELAPCO), told pv magazine.

At the end of April, Greece had a cumulative photovoltaic capacity of 2.603 GW, dispersed among 2.228 GW of ground mounted installations and 375 MW of rooftop PV systems.

In 2014, Greece had added a tiny 13 MW of new photovoltaic capacity compared to 1047 MW and 890 MW of solar PV installed in 2013 and 2012 respectively.

Greece's new government turns to lignite

This week's LAGIE statistics have disappointed the Greek PV industry who is now preparing for the worst. This is Greece's policy U-turn towards lignite.

The new government's policy shift away from renewable energies “is very clear” said Psomas. “All [the new government] is concerned with is how to promote power generation from fossil fuels e.g. new lignite power stations, new gas pipes and explanatory drilling for oil. So far, it has shown no interest at all for renewables energy” Psomas added.

Since the end of January, when a new coalition government between a far left party and a populist right party came to power, the new government is at war with many of Greece's environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The subject of the stormy relationship is the Greek government's decision to give the final go ahead at Ptolemaida V, a 660 MW new power plant that burns lignite.

WWF Greece, the Greek arm of the international organisation WWF, has gathered 48000 signatures from citizens who ask Greece's energy minister to stop the approval of new lignite power plant. Greece's energy minister Panayotis Lafazanis has refused to meet with WWF Greece to collect the signatures.

Both WWF Greece and Greenpeace Greece have accused the new government that it falls prey to the lignite lobby, not prioritising Greece's benefits and have published studies proving the hazardous character of the new lignite plant for Greece's economy, environment and public health.

“Ptolemaida V is an expensive (€1.4 billion) and pollutant investment (1.05 tn CO2/MWh) that is not needed and that, if it materialises, it will lock the country in dirty policy choices for decades to come. Moreover, lignite power stations do not have the flexibility needed for the greater integration of renewable energies, e.g the flexibility provided by gas fired plants”, remarked Psomas.

Energy minister Lafazanis answers that Ptolemaida V requires since renewable power plants are intermittent and endanger the country's energy security.

At a recent discussion in the Greek Parliament, Lafazanis fought a member of the parliament for calling Greece's national electricity company, the Public Power Corporation (PPC), a “pollutant business”. PPC, (which is a vertical integrated company that owns all of Greece's coal plants), does release emissions, said Lafazanis and we need to see this issue sensibly, however this “has nothing to do with the support we provide the PPC.”

“If the minister asks elsewhere [that the lignite lobby] in Greece and Europe, they will tell him that the planned lignite plant is a technological relic before it even gets built”, answer Greenpeace Greece.

WWF Greece says the European Investment Bank has refused to fund the project, which it actually got backed by Germany's KfW Bank with a €793 million loan. But Germany itself has shifted towards renewable energies, Greece's WWF and Greenpeace remark.

In May, Lafazanis sent a letter to the European Commission asking permission to operate the Ptolemaida III, a separate coal plant that is shut down due to its very old technology that pollutes the environments enormously. One of Lafazanis arguments was “the economic crisis in Greece, which makes the need for keeping the cost of energy for households’ heating as low as possible.”

The irony of timing

The timing of Greece's shift in energy policy is rather ironic. According to LAGIE's statistics published on Monday, the deficit of LAGIE's renewable energy fund, which is used to pay renewable energy producers, was brought down to €35.27 million up from over €550 million in December 2013.

Greece's previous remuneration policies for photovoltaic plants were vastly miscalculated leading the former government to take unpopular retroactive cuts. The main goal of the retroactive policy, the so-called ‘New Deal', was to eliminate LAGIE's deficit. It appears that the New Deal, albeit unpopular, has achieved its goal.

A separate report by LAGIE published earlier this year shows that although Greece's energy demand in the first quarter of 2015 increased by 8.4 percent, lignite's contribution to the energy mix fell down to 34 percent from 45 percent in the previous years. Renewable energies and gas provided 10 and 11 prevents respectively. The lignite's loss was mainly covered by energy imports via Greece's electricity interconnections with its neighbours. The same phenomenon, more or less, also appeared in the last quarter of 2014.

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