An explosion rocked a coal-fired power plant in Kosovo on Friday, leaving at least three people dead and more than a dozen wounded, officials said
The blast occurred when a hydrogen tank at the plant exploded, according to Reuters. An investigation into the incident has been launched, and the plant has been shut down for an indefinite period. In the meantime, Kosovo will import energy from neighboring countries to meet demand.
The 40-year-old plant, known as Kosovo A, produces about 30 percent of Kosovo’s energy. It is also the worst single-point source of pollution in all of Europe.
After years of being plagued by pollution and chronic power shortages, Kosovo’s energy future is still uncertain. Plans to decommission Kosovo A are stalled, and the 2017 deadline for the plant’s retirement may not be met. In the meantime, the country’s continued reliance on lignite coal—a particularly low-grade form of the fuel—has continued to increase air pollution, threatening lives.
A report released earlier this year by the World Health Organization found that 7 million people die every year because of air pollution. This amounts to one in eight of total global deaths.
Kosovo is facing what could be a critical turning point. Currently, electricity generation in the country releases an average of 5.8 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, along with a host of other byproducts, such particulate matter and sulphur dioxide, which are known to be hazardous to human health. As the closure of Kosovo A approaches, the country faces a choice: it can either replace it with another lignite plant or build up renewable energy sources.
At present, Kosovo’s government is asking the World Bank to help finance a $1.4 billion, 600-megawatt coal plant. However, the bank recently decided to restrict financing for coal plants, due to their enormous contribution to climate change. The organization has not financed a major coal project since 2010.
According to the guidelines, the bank “will cease providing financial support for greenfield coal power generation projects, except in rare circumstances where there are no feasible alternatives available to meet basic energy needs and other sources of financing are absent.”
A 2012 study conducted by University of California at Berkeley researchers showed that Kosovo does not need more coal in order to achieve its energy needs. The study found that the country could instead do so through a more cost-effective—and cleaner—program that invests in energy efficiency and renewable power generation while modernizing transmission lines and partnering with Albania, which is home to formidable hydropower resources.
A Sierra Club analysis found that the proposed coal plant would overshoot demand, drastically increase electricity rates, and likely exceed EU and World Bank ambient air quality standards.
Whatever path the country decides to take, one thing is clear: if Kosovo continues with business as usual, it does so at the risk of lives lost. As this accident and the recent coalmine disaster in Turkey illustrate, the extraction and combustion of coal come with costs even beyond those associated with air pollution and climate change.