New coal-fired power enjoys support among bankers in Germany and Asia

Eric Marx, EE News, 13th August 2015

In the northern Greek city of Ptolemaida, a new 660-megawatt power plant that burns lignite, a plentiful soft brown coal, is scheduled to be built by 2020. The European Investment Bank has withdrawn funding from the project because of its high CO2 emissions and other pollutants, but the German government-owned development bank KfW, which has a large portfolio of green investments in Germany, is planning to provide half the money needed, roughly €800 million ($888 million) in loan guarantees.

The deal has come at considerable expense to Germany’s reputation as a climate leader. By funding the plant in Ptolemaida, KfW is helping to block the expansion of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, while cementing coal-fired power into Greece’s grid for decades.

Up until the close of 2014, lignite use had been on the way down while renewables were trending up to roughly 20 percent of Greece’s total energy consumption, three-quarters of which came from wind power. In the last six months, those investments have all but dried up.

The Greek government’s argument for an apparent policy turn toward lignite rests with the conviction that a power plant like Ptolemaida V reduces energy costs. In a time of economic crisis, Greece has to think about immediate needs, Greece’s energy minister Panayotis Lafazanis recently remarked. The minister also argued against renewables on the basis of their intermittency, saying they endanger the country’s future energy security.

“If the minister asks elsewhere in Greece and Europe, they will tell him that the planned lignite plant is a technological relic before it even gets built,” answered Greenpeace Greece. In the face of 48,000 signatures gathered in opposition to the power plant by WWF Greece, Lafazanis turned down the opportunity for a meeting. War has been waged in Greece between environmentalists and the government over the plant. Meanwhile, the big winner would seem to be German industry.

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