NEWS Misplaced Praise — U.S. support of coal in Kosovo contradicts future health and prosperity

Mis­placed Praise — U.S. sup­port of coal in Kosovo con­tra­dicts future health and prosperity

by Noah Kit­tner and Daniel M. Kammen

For the Tran­si­tions Online ver­sion, click here.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment has con­grat­u­lated the Kosovo gov­ern­ment for sign­ing a deal with Con­tour Global, an Amer­i­can multi-​​national energy cor­po­ra­tion, to build a new 500 MW coal-​​fired power plant. How­ever, it is extremely ironic to see these par­ties high­light­ing future pros­per­ity, health, and energy secu­rity. Lock­ing Kosovo into a new coal-​​fired power plant actu­ally will pre­vent the emerg­ing Balkan coun­try from reach­ing pros­per­ity, bet­ter health, and improved energy security.


A pros­per­ous Kosovo will need jobs for a mod­ern econ­omy, as well as a low-​​cost, afford­able, and reli­able elec­tric­ity sup­ply. Our elec­tric­ity options study shows that an inte­grated pack­age of invest­ments in energy effi­ciency and renew­able elec­tric­ity – includ­ing solar, wind, and small-​​scale sus­tain­able hydropower – could pro­vide the same amount of elec­tric­ity as a 500 MW coal-​​fired power plant at a lower cost. More impor­tantly, an inte­grated energy sys­tem will cre­ate more jobs and reduce the finan­cial risk across a larger num­ber of projects. We also note that the five-​​year lag time before the plant begins oper­a­tions will sig­nif­i­cantly set back Kosovo by forc­ing it to rely on dirty, lig­nite coal-​​powered elec­tric­ity from the Kosovo A and B power plants.


Lig­nitepower plant near Obilic, Kosovo. Image from Lograsset/​Wikimedia Commons.


On the con­trary, solar and wind projects have sig­nif­i­cantly lower startup costs and can deploy within months, rather than years. More­over, improve­ments in bat­tery stor­age tech­nolo­gieshave enabled solar and wind projects to oper­ate more like con­ven­tional base­load power plants, sim­pli­fy­ing grid inte­gra­tion. The 100 MW lithium-​​ion bat­tery facil­ity in south Aus­tralia was recently com­pleted in less than 100 days. Plan­ners have spent 13 years debat­ing the future of the new Kosovo e Re power plant.


The five-​​year con­struc­tion sched­ule will also sig­nif­i­cantly dis­rupt pub­lic health. The lack of fab­ric fil­ters to man­age the emis­sions of PM10 and PM2.5, dan­ger­ous par­ti­cle mat­ter, from exist­ing boil­ers makes Pristina one of the worst places to live in all Europe from an air pol­lu­tion and pub­lic health per­spec­tive. Our research pub­lished in the Envi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy jour­nal shows that lig­nite coal burned in Kosovo’s power plants con­tains ele­vated lev­els of arsenic, chromium, and nickel – toxic met­als that are not safe for humans and wors­ens the air pol­lu­tion crisis.


Wait­ing to build a coal-​​fired power plant, instead of deploy­ing energy effi­ciency projects and renew­able energy today, will also exac­er­bate energy secu­rity issues. In the short-​​term, the lag will force Kosovo to import more elec­tric­ity from Ser­bia when Kosovo A and B can­not run. This is a secu­rity issue, since Kosovo already has prob­lems main­tain­ing domes­tic coal reserves, and Ser­bia could con­trol the price of elec­tric­ity imports. As just one recent exam­ple, since Jan­u­ary 2018, a dis­pute with Bel­grade over bal­anc­ing Kosovo’s lost load has altered fre­quency lev­els on the Euro­pean power grid, caus­ing elec­tric clocks to lag behind, with losses total­ing more than 113 GWh.


The power plant will also pre­vent Kosovo from com­ply­ing with EU air pol­lu­tion direc­tives. Future EU acces­sion hinges on such com­pli­ance. Even if Kosovo builds the power plant, Ser­bia still main­tains con­trol over the water resources of Gazivoda Lake – the water cool­ing source for Kosovo B, and Ser­bia could halt Kosovo’s water sup­ply on a whim. On the other hand, solar, wind, and stor­age pro­vide Kosovo with greater con­trol and sov­er­eignty over its energy future.


This deal is a step in the wrong direc­tion for Kosovo. Trans­parency mat­ters, and the lack of pub­lic input and infor­ma­tion on the debt load for the Koso­var gov­ern­ment could set back efforts to reju­ve­nate Kosovo’s econ­omy for decades. The issues at hand are sus­tain­able elec­tric­ity, future jobs, and pub­lic health. Renew­able energy can achieve this – at a frac­tion of the cost – and with greater job cre­ation poten­tial and secu­rity. The U.S. gov­ern­ment should not con­grat­u­late Kosovo on this deal. Our respon­si­bil­ity should be to invest in energy effi­ciency and renewables.

Noah Kit­tner is a National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion Grad­u­ate Research Fel­low and PhD can­di­date in the Energy and Resources Group at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley. He is also a researcher in the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory and SAGE-​​IGERT fel­low in the Berke­ley Cen­ter for Green Chemistry.

Daniel M. Kam­men is pro­fes­sor and chair of the Energy and Resources Group, and is the found­ing direc­tor of the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berkeley.

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