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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