The state-owned Oltenia Energy Complex (OEC) in southern Romania, the country’s second biggest source of electricity, is due to wind down operations at its coal-fired power units over the next seven years so they can be modernised to comply with the latest EU emissions standards.
OEC controls four lignite-burning thermal power plants (TPPs) – Turceni, Rovinari, Isalnita and Craiova – with a combined capacity of 3,240 MW. In a statement, the utility said that each of the 11 units at these stations would need to be shut down for at least six months between now and 2024. During this downtime, new equipment will be installed to reduce the harmful pollutants emitted by the plants.
Last year, Brussels introduced stricter rules for emissions of nitrogen and sulphur oxides and other pollutants for power and heating plants, giving them until 2021 to comply. But the move is opposed by several member states that are heavily reliant on coal. Poland, which depends on coal for 80% of its electricity, appealed against the decision in January and has even taken legal action against the European Commission over the changes.
OEC’s general manager, Sorin Boza, has claimed the EC’s 2021 deadline for adopting the new standards is unrealistic, calling for its delay until 2025. According to the company head, an investment of 150 million euros (US$247 million) will be needed to make OEC’s plants cleaner.
“Between 2009 and 2015, we spent one billion euros [US$1.2 billion] to implement the European standards required by 2016, only to have an unpleasant surprise this autumn and discover more new standards will be put in place,” he was quoted as saying in the local press this month.
OEC’s financial position is precarious. The company reported losses between 2014 and 2016, and cut 1,000 jobs last year, amid rumours it would enter insolvency. It managed to turn a gross profit of 200 million lei (US$52.9 million) in 2017 and has forecast a slimmer income of 70.2 million lei (US$18.6 million) for this year.
Coal accounts for around 23% of Romania’s generation mix, while hydropower is responsible for almost 30%, nuclear 17% and renewables 14.5%. Over half of the country’s 28 coal plants will need to be retrofitted with cleaner equipment or face closure because of the EU’s stricter emissions controls.