Proposed coal plants facing stiff resistance

GERMANY - Dong Energy, a Danish energy major, is exploring opportunities for coal-based projects in Germany and the United Kingdom. As part of the company's expansion operations in Germany, the firm has proposed coal-fired plants at Lubmin, in the vicinity of Greifswald, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Emden in Niedersachsen.

The move has met stiff resistance from Greenpeace activists and citizens' forums in Germany and has been criticized by Sigmar Gabriel, the German Minister for Energy and Environment.

Gabriel's criticism stems from the lack of a power and heat-coupling mechanism to recover heat energy from the power production process, but general resistance is related to the environmental impact. The plants are expected to add to Germany's existing carbon-dioxide emissions, causing a further imbalance in the ecosystem. About 53,000 megawatts (MW) of Germany's energy generation is based on coal-based plants.

Dong Energy's power ventures in Germany have been aptly timed to coincide with the phasing out of obsolete nuclear and thermal power units in the country.

About 33,000 MW of thermal and nuclear power capacities are due to be replaced by 2020. The proposed coal-based power plants have been envisaged to have a production capacity of 1,600 MW each, comprising two units of 800 MW each.

According to company sources, the plant at Lubmin will be capable of handling a multi-fuel mix, utilizing coal at 20% greater efficiency than the other conventional coal-based plants in Germany. The plant will be set up at an estimated investment of $2.87 billion and is expected to be operational by 2013. Land acquisition for the second plant at Emden also has been completed.

Coal-based power generation is a relatively new domain for Dong Energy, which has been a long-term player in gas and power-sector investments. Dwindling domestic markets and growth potential in Germany and the UK have caused the company to diversify. Although the company hopes to achieve 3,000 MW of power generation from renewable sources by the year 2024, Dong's short-term focus is on coal-based ventures.

As a coal user, Dong Energy has reiterated a commitment to reduce the impact on the environment by exploring clean coal ventures and carbon capture and storage (CCS) techniques.

However, the company's CCS methodologies have not yet been perfected for immediate use. Further trial runs also have revealed that the CCS process consumes a third of the energy produced from the associated thermal ventures. Given this scenario, Dong Energy's ventures in Germany continue to face opposition from Greenpeace and local activist groups, with the company bombarded with mail from Greenpeace volunteers.

Citizens' forums too have expressed concern that natural reserves, in addition to health resorts, spas and other tourism infrastructure in the region, will be affected by these coal-based ventures.

Meanwhile, Dong Energy has clarified in a letter to Minister Gabriel that the Lubmin power station will be equipped with power-heat coupling, allaying the minister's doubts on energy efficiency. The firm is yet to receive permits for its coal-fired projects.


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