Environmentalists: Serbia’s coal-fired power plants biggest polluter in region

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Coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans continue to pose a severe threat to the environment in the region, but also in the European Union, after causing the premature death of at least 19,000 people from 2018 to 2020, of which more than 10,000 in EU countries, the Association for Environmental Protection and Energy Research said on Wednesday, adding Serbia was the greatest polluter in the region.

In 2020 alone, coal-fired power plants in BiH, Serbia, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo emitted two and a half times more sulfur dioxide (SO2) than all other such power plants still operating in the EU, according to published data from the Association for the Protection of the environment of the CEE Bankwatch Network and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

The biggest violations were registered in Serbia, whose thermal power plants emitted more than 333 tonnes of sulfur dioxide in 2020, which exceeded the amount released by as many as 221 thermal power plants still operating in the EU.

The largest single sulfur dioxide pollutant is the thermal power plant in Ugljevik, in BiH’s semiautonomous region of Republika Srpska, which emitted more than 107 tonnes of SO2 last year.

At the same time, 1.6 times more dust particles were released from these thermal power plants than was foreseen by the national plans to reduce harmful emissions (NERP) in two years, from 2018 to 2020.

Warnings about the need for a more decisive EU approach to the problem of air pollution in the Western Balkans come at a time when countries in the region, such as BiH, are considering the possibility of building new coal-fired power plants, the report said.

The organisations said the EU countries were still the primary buyers of exported electricity produced in thermal power plants in the Western Balkans. However, that represents only 0.3 percent of the total electricity consumption, the production of which is at the same time a source of almost half of air pollution on the European continent.

Analysts of these organisations said that 10,800 people died from the consequences of air pollution from thermal power plants in the EU in the previous three years, while 6,500 of them died in the Western Balkans, the Croatian Hina agency reported.

The total three-year costs that the affected countries have due to air pollution are estimated at 25.3 to as much as 51.8 billion euros.

Coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans in 2020 alone caused additional treatment costs and reduced economic performance by a total of at least six billion euros, and potentially up to 12 billion, according to the agency.

All Western Balkans countries have violated the predictions in the national plans for reducing harmful emissions, so the Secretariat of the Energy Community, which brings together the EU countries and the Balkan regions, has initiated legal disputes.