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Misplaced Praise

U.S. support of coal in Kosovo contradicts future health and prosperity.

by Noah Kittner and Daniel M. Kammen 13 March 2018

The U.S. government has congratulated the Kosovo government for signing a deal with Contour Global, an American multi-national energy corporation, to build a new 500 MW coal-fired power plant. However, it is extremely ironic to see these parties highlighting future prosperity, health, and energy security. Locking Kosovo into a new coal-fired power plant actually will prevent the emerging Balkan country from reaching prosperity, better health, and improved energy security.


A prosperous Kosovo will need jobs for a modern economy, as well as a low-cost, affordable, and reliable electricity supply. Our electricity options study shows that an integrated package of investments in energy efficiency and renewable electricity – including solar, wind, and small-scale sustainable hydropower – could provide the same amount of electricity as a 500 MW coal-fired power plant at a lower cost. More importantly, an integrated energy system will create more jobs and reduce the financial risk across a larger number of projects. We also note that the five-year lag time before the plant begins operations will significantly set back Kosovo by forcing it to rely on dirty, lignite coal-powered electricity from the Kosovo A and B power plants.


A lignite power plant near Obilic, Kosovo. Image from Lograsset/Wikimedia Commons.


On the contrary, solar and wind projects have significantly lower startup costs and can deploy within months, rather than years. Moreover, improvements in battery storage technologies have enabled solar and wind projects to operate more like conventional baseload power plants, simplifying grid integration. The 100 MW lithium-ion battery facility in south Australia was recently completed in less than 100 days. Planners have spent 13 years debating the future of the new Kosovo e Re power plant.


The five-year construction schedule will also significantly disrupt public health. The lack of fabric filters to manage the emissions of PM10 and PM2.5, dangerous particle matter, from existing boilers makes Pristina one of the worst places to live in all Europe from an air pollution and public health perspective. Our research published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal shows that lignite coal burned in Kosovo’s power plants contains elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, and nickel – toxic metals that are not safe for humans and worsens the air pollution crisis.


Waiting to build a coal-fired power plant, instead of deploying energy efficiency projects and renewable energy today, will also exacerbate energy security issues. In the short-term, the lag will force Kosovo to import more electricity from Serbia when Kosovo A and B cannot run. This is a security issue, since Kosovo already has problems maintaining domestic coal reserves, and Serbia could control the price of electricity imports. As just one recent example, since January 2018, a dispute with Belgrade over balancing Kosovo’s lost load has altered frequency levels on the European power grid, causing electric clocks to lag behind, with losses totaling more than 113 GWh.


The power plant will also prevent Kosovo from complying with EU air pollution directives. Future EU accession hinges on such compliance. Even if Kosovo builds the power plant, Serbia still maintains control over the water resources of Gazivoda Lake – the water cooling source for Kosovo B, and Serbia could halt Kosovo’s water supply on a whim. On the other hand, solar, wind, and storage provide Kosovo with greater control and sovereignty over its energy future.


This deal is a step in the wrong direction for Kosovo. Transparency matters, and the lack of public input and information on the debt load for the Kosovar government could set back efforts to rejuvenate Kosovo’s economy for decades. The issues at hand are sustainable electricity, future jobs, and public health. Renewable energy can achieve this – at a fraction of the cost – and with greater job creation potential and security. The U.S. government should not congratulate Kosovo on this deal. Our responsibility should be to invest in energy efficiency and renewables.

Noah Kittner is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and PhD candidate in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California at Berkeley. He is also a researcher in the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and SAGE-IGERT fellow in the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry.


Daniel M. Kammen is professor and chair of the Energy and Resources Group, and is the founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley.
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The Moldovan Diaries is a multimedia, interactive examination of the country's ethnic, religious, social and political identities by Paolo Paterlini and Cesare De Giglio.

This innovative approach to story telling gives voice to ordinary people and takes the reader on the virtual trip across Moldovan rural and urban landscapes. 

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