Greece oddly snubbing billions in European Union NER 300 funding for carbon capture and storage

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Zervos also announced at the same briefing that PPC would move forward with building two new lignite plants in the cities of Ptolemaida and Florina by 2016

His announcements are disheartening, especially because Greece  currently is currently the second most coal dependent nation among all 27 of the European Union’s Member States, and effort at introducing carbon capture and storage (CCS) and other climate mitigating technologies continue to be scuppered.  Some 58 percent of the country’s energy is produced by burning lignite.

Hopes had been high that with Greece’s high  coal dependency and new socialist government’s pledge to radically reduce emissions that the EU’s NER 300 package of some €4.5 billion would have carved out the necessary opportunity for Greek authorities to take carbon emissions reducing measures.

The NER 300 is a budget of 300 million EU emission unit allowances (EUAs) allocated in December 2008 to finance demonstration projects of innovative renewable energy technology and CCS under the ***New Entrants’ Reserve for the period 2013-2020 of the ***EU emission trading scheme.

The EU’s Zero Emission’s Platform (ZEP) and the European Renewable Energy Research Centres Agency (EUREC) had called in Septemer for this funding to be distributed expeditiously.

By moving forward with a CCS project Greece – a country in major economic hardship – would benefit from much-needed funding that would be directed toward the development of a green economy. That prospect appears even more appealing now that the NER 300 clause requiring that governments finance at least 50 percent of the projects performed under NER 300’s aegis has been dropped. Furthermore the application of CCS technology in one of the new lignite units would eliminate most of the emissions produced by its operation, furthering Greece’s declared goal of emissions reductions.

Despite the obvious possibility of going forward with a CCS project financed under the NER 300 funds, neither the Greek government nor PPC brass appear at the moment willing to encourage such an initiative. On the contrary, specialised companies and research institutes that have approached Greek authorities with coherent and serious plans to use the NER 300 funds have been passively ignored.

The explanation provided by the authorities is that CCS technology is untested and dangerous. Yet, these explanations appear to observers to be an effort to brush off serious and pragmatic discussions of the issue.

Other EU countries with less coal dependency, like Italy and Spain, on the other hand, have not avoided such debates and are already making use of EU funds to apply CCS in new fossil fuel units. EU Member States like Hungary and the Czech Republic are likewise working rigorously toward producing a viable proposal for a CCS unit to be funded within the framework of the NER 300 funds.  

Greece needs to abandon its rigid energy policy standpoint and make use of all potential tools at hand to cover energy needs while at the same time achieving bold emissions reductions. Major increase of energy efficiency and renewable energy production should be the main means to accomplish this.

Yet such technologies are not likely to be enough to keep the lights on. Without CCS, imported carbon-emitting natural gas or imported nuclear power from old plants in Bulgaria would be likely to fill the gap. But this is neither a long-term nor a responsible solution. Furthermore, it does nothing to reduce emissions from industrial processes such as cement factories.  

A serious discussion and cost-benefit analysis is finally needed to consider the application of CCS through funding via the NER 300 scheme. This would permit Greece to move toward emissions reductions, diversify its options and develop know-how in the CCS technological field now so that it does not have to pay once again dearly in the future.

Ilias Vazaios is Bellona’s representative in Greece.

Ilias Vazaios