Besides renewable energy sources like the sun or river water, brown coal is the only own energy sources Slovakia has at its disposal. The heat produced from low-quality brown coal propels turbines in the thermal power station in Nováky, western Slovakia.
This loss-making generation of electricity, however, not only requires subsidies paid by all end electricity consumers but also pollutes the country. Now, new European Commission regulations curbing emissions, increasing the share of green energy and reducing the support of electricity generation from domestic sources are threatening the future of the Nováky facility.
The Nováky facility fires coal extracted by the Hornonitrianske Bane Prievidza (HBP) private mine, for which the facility is the main customer. The Slovak government has been supporting the mine’s operation in the long term and Prime Minister Robert Fico has promised to keep the mines working, referencing efforts to maintain employment in this region. Back in 2015 Fico’s government extended the support scheme for the HBP mine until 2030.
“I want to guarantee that until we have things under control we will do the utmost for coal extraction to continue,” said Robert Fico when visiting the mine last September.
Economy Minister Peter Žiga has already admitted that the current support for brown coal mining may cease earlier than 2030.
The operator of Nováky, the dominant power generator Slovenské Elektrárne, has not specified its plans regarding Nováky.
The construction of the Elektráreň Nováky (ENO) brown coal-fired thermal power plant began in 1949 and over the years it has undergone several extensions and modernisations. Within the latest phases, some of its units were modernised while others were shut down in order to meet limits on emissions. The current installed capacity of the plant is 266 MWe. This accounts for about 6 percent of the installed capacity of its operator, the dominant electricity producer Slovenské Elektrárne (SE). Apart from electricity the Nováky facility also generates heat.
After the steel maker U.S. Steel Košice, it is the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in Slovakia, according to the Trend weekly.
The Nováky facility generates electricity from low-quality brown coal produced by HBP under a state support scheme. SE receives approximately €95 million annually for generating electricity in Nováky, though it has repeatedly complained that in spite of this support this is a loss-making operation.
Support is paid out within the special tariff for operating the system. It is part of the final electricity price for all end electricity consumers. Within this tariff, aside from electricity generation from brown coal in Nováky, electricity consumers support the generation of electricity from renewable energy sources and the highly effective combined production of electricity and heat.
The European Commission, aimed at reducing pollution and supporting electricity generation from renewable energy sources (RES), has recently adopted several new regulations.
In mid-August it introduced stricter emission standards that include tighter rules for the emissions of nitrous oxides, sulphur dioxide (SO2), mercury and harmful dust known as “particulate matter” (PM). The heat and electricity-generating facilities will have to maintain new limits as of 2021.
“I consider the gradual tightening of emission standards to be a natural step in the effort to reduce air pollution, achieve an energy mix, i.e. the composition of energy resources used for electricity generation with lower emissions, and last but not least to support innovations and technological support for the operators of power plants, heating plants and boiler plants,” Lenka Ferenčáková, the editor-in-chief of the Energia.sk website told The Slovak Spectator. “With respect to differing fuel mixes this may be for some countries, including Slovakia, more difficult to achieve.”
To meet the new limits Slovakia needs to modernise two plants – besides Nováky, the thermal power station Vojany, which generates electricity from imported black coal.
The Dutch consultancy company DNV GL estimates, based on its study carried out last year, that Slovakia would need as much as €91 million to modernise Nováky and Vojany in order to meet the new standards. Out of this, Nováky should require €82 million and Vojany almost €10 million, according to www.energia.sk, which is dedicated to energy topics.
SE, in which Czech Energetický a Průmyslový Holding and Italian Enel each control 33 percent and the state the remaining 34 percent, claims that its coal-firing plants have been meeting most of the planned limits, or are close.
SE has not specified whether the estimate of needed modernisation costs by DNV GL is accurate, nor its further plans in this respect.
“The amount of possible investments is the subject of ongoing internal analyses,” Miroslav Šarišský told The Slovak Spectator.
The Economy Ministry, which administers the state’s share in SE is not planning any form of financial support for the modernisation of Nováky or Vojany for now, the ministry’s spokesperson Maroš Stano told The Slovak Spectator.
Ferenčáková does not expect SE to be willing to spend too much on the modernisation of power stations, when their future is uncertain. SE spent almost €40 million on Nováky’s latest modernisation.
But she points out that when making them more ecologically friendly, there are several ways to achieve this. They can, for example, reduce the capacities of Nováky and Vojany and thus the limits they need to meet will be less strict. In this respect she cited SE documents, based on which SE plans to reduce the amount of electricity generated by Nováky to 900 GWh. In 2016 the facility supplied 1,306 GWh to the grid, Energie.sk wrote. Ferenčáková also points out that EC legislation allows some deviations from the required limits.
Jozef Badida, an analyst on energieprevas.sk, which is dedicated to the energy sector, states that SE invested into Nováky and Vojany in the past in order to meet currently valid emission limits. Whether they will also invest in the future depends on many factors.
“The decisive factors will be the price of electricity as a commodity, which is currently favourable, but certainly also the ownership structure because the government has been addressing a social question through the increase of end electricity prices to all Slovak consumers, which is not a very happy method,” Badida told The Slovak Spectator. By social question he means the issue of the thousands of miners working the HBP mines.