Old lignite plants and hard coal import hurdles complicate Germany’s emergency coal revival
The reactivation of mothballed coal plants in Germany - in response to the energy crisis fuelled by Russia’s war on Ukraine - could include old lignite-fired power stations which do not meet emissions limits and other environmental requirements that normally would prohibit continuing their operations, Nora Zaremba writes for energy policy newsletter Tagesspiegel Background. Plants in the so-called security reserve should be made exempt from these requirements, plant operator LEAG recently demanded, as retrofitting the old installations would take too much time. Germany’s economy and climate ministry (BMWK) will ultimately have to decide on the conditions for a return of individual plants, which might lead to a split of coal plants in two categories, lignite and hard coal, the article says.
Ministry sources suggest that only hard coal plants might get a license initially, with further additions possible “if needed,” according to the article. This in turn hinges on the volume of gas flows Germany will continue to receive from Russia. The ministry doesn’t rule out that flows will not resume after a planned shutdown of the Nord Stream offshore pipeline for maintenance works, scheduled to end on 21 July. While lignite is fully sourced domestically, Germany imports its hard coal supply, with Russia still being a major supplier until 10 August, when contracts that were not prolonged in the context of western economic sanctions on Moscow will expire. Other hard coal suppliers are available, but only at higher costs. Ramping up coal import infrastructure again will also require investments that many operators will shy away from if higher coal imports are seen only as a short-term remedy for the coming winter.
The German government aims to reduce the use of gas for power generation and industry in view of reduced Russian deliveries by using more coal-fired power plants. Coal plant operator RWE already halted early retirements to keep its lignite plants running longer than originally planned.