Questionable testing at Nováky power plant ends

Citizens of Horná Nitra complained about worsened air pollution; HBP mine denies accusations.

Power plant Elektárne Nováky (ENO)Power plant Elektárne Nováky (ENO) (Source: TASR)

The coal-mining company Hornonitrianske Bane Prievidza (HBP) ended the nearly four-month testing of alternative technologies at the brown-coal-fired power plant Nováky on February 28 as it had promised. The data collected during the test will be used for possible reconstruction of the third block at Nováky. Though this should help HBP to meet its business plans and Nováky to generate electricity ordered by the state, local people complain about worsened air pollution and blame the testing for it. HBP denies the accusations and cites burning of coal and wood in households during January as the main source of pollution.

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In the meantime, it remains questionable whether Slovakia should continue to support loss-making generation of electricity from low-quality, local brown coal.

Testing at Nováky

“Conducted emission measurements and flue gas monitoring will serve as a basis for a detailed analysis of investment and operating costs to review the possibility of establishing the so-called alternative combustion unit that could be used in the event of a failure or shutdown of the first and second blocks [at Nováky],” the energy producer Slovenské Elektrárne (SE) and operator of Nováky informed on February 28 as cited by the TASR newswire.

Last year, HBP rented one of the now unused blocks of the power plant Nováky from SE in order to test an alternative combustion unit. The company rented one of the closed-down blocks because they no longer meet environmental criteria for operation.

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The testing lasted from November 7, 2016 until February 28. In this way it was testing a way to avoid breaks in production of electricity in Nováky from coal it produces.

Operations of HBP and the Nováky plant are closely interconnected as Nováky is HBP's only consumer of the brown coal it extracts. In order to keep HBP and its around 4,000 employees afloat, the state subsidises generation of electricity from HBP’s coal. But rather frequent and significant failures on electricity generating technologies at Nováky in 2016 caused HBP production and economic problems.

At the end of October 2016 production was lagging more than 10 percent behind the company's plans. This caused HBP to call on SE to solve the situation. This resulted in testing of an alternative combustion unit. Such a unit may be used during breaks in production in order that the electricity production remains uninterrupted, Adriana Siváková, spokeswoman of HBP told The Slovak Spectator.

During the tests an accredited lab monitored burned gases and emissions. Final results will be available only after the lab assesses them, but so-far results indicate the new method as feasible, according to HBP.

“Preliminary results show that under changed technological conditions for operation of the third block of the power plant Nováky and combusting of low-sulphuric fuel the method of desulphurisation is successful,” said Siváková.

HBP promises that if this technology is used, limits for the annual coal consumption and generation of electricity as well as total emission quotas will be not exceeded at Nováky in any case.

Locals complained about air pollution

During the time of the tests people living in the Horná Nitra region in which also the Nováky plant is located complained about increased pollution in the air.

In January, the environmental department at the regional office in Trenčín even declared the first degree of smog situation after the Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute measured an increased concentration of dust particles in the air in Trenčín and its vicinity. Authorities ascribed the increased air pollution partly to unfavourable weather conditions, especially to heating with coal and wood in households.

Yet local people also saw testing operations at Nováky as a source of pollution. They called on HBP to end the tests and initiated a petition to achieve this. Also SE called on HBP in late January to end the tests as soon as possible.

HBP denied the accusations and continued the testing until the planned completion.

Siváková explained for The Slovak Spectator that residues of combustion in the testing operation of the third block of Nováky operated via functional separators and that meeting of emission limits was secured. They were released into the air via a 300-metre high smoke stack, i.e. tall enough to secure their optimal dispersion.

“It disperses emissions above the inversion layer and thus they do not have any influence over the breathable part of the atmosphere,” said Siváková.

Support of generation of electricity from local coal

In Slovakia, electricity consumers support generation of green energy as well as loss-making production of electricity from local brown coal via the so-called tariff for operation of the system. The tariff makes up a portion of the final price of electricity. Such a method of support is often criticised as via the same channel also production of clean energy is supported.

Within this scheme the Regulatory Office for Network Industries (ÚRSO) has set the annual payment for production of electricity from brown coal at €95.41 million annually between 2017 and 2021, the website dedicated to energy wrote.

However, the European Commission doubts whether such a subsidy is in line with the EU’s rules.

“The support for production of electricity from low quality brown coal extracted in Slovakia is an example of environmentally harmful subsidies,” reads the EU Environmental Implementation Review published on February 3.

In the country report about Slovakia additional lines were added stating that “The issue has attracted attention at the end of 2016 when one of the blocks of the Nováky thermal power, shut down on 1 January 2016 due to the non-compliance with emission limits, has resumed service. The production of electricity from domestically produced lignite from Nováky’s mine is heavily subsidised in Slovakia (cca €100 mil. annually paid by electricity consumers in form of feed-in tariff) while being the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in Slovakia”.

The non-governmental Climate Analysts pointed out in its analysis from February that the EU will need to phase out CO2 emissions from all of its coal plants in the next 15 years if it is to meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goals.

Libor Melioris, a former analyst of the think-tank Finance Financial Policy Institute (IFP) at the Finance Ministry who now works in the Slovak president's office, said earlier that by closing down the power plant in Nováky Slovakia would meet international agreements about greenhouse gas emissions for tens years in advance and it would also be able to profit from the sale of emission quotas, the Sme daily recalled.

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