July 24, 2021

Spain says goodbye to coal with the closure of all mines | Society

Spain says goodbye to coal with the closure of all mines | Society

And the end of coal mining in Spain arrived. On January 1, the 26 farms in Asturias, Aragón and Castilla y León that remained in Spain – of which only 12 were in production – will have to close or return the more than 500 million euros that they have received from public aid. To that closing the Government committed itself to the European Commission at the beginning of this decade, when Brussels granted the final extension to a deficit economic activity that It has more than 30 years of decline in Spain. In November there were only 2,046 workers attached to the special coal mining regime, compared to the 51,420 in 1985. And 90% of the coal that is burned in Spain to produce electricity is already imported from other countries such as Colombia or Russia .

The generation of electricity with this fuel – the main use that is now given to the mineral – is also in the spotlight of environmental policies because it is highly polluting. In addition, this activity accumulates about 15% of all greenhouse gases in the Spanish economy.

European standards are aimed at making coal plants disappear. For years, an emissions market has been operating, which now forces plants to pay more than 20 euros for each ton of COtwo that they expel into the atmosphere. The forecast is for that price to continue increasing. In addition, Brussels puts more and more obstacles to the States at the time of giving subsidies to the plants in disguise.


Millions of tonnes of CO2 equivalent emitted in 2017

Source: Carbunion and European Commission.

All this makes coal plants less and less attractive. In fact, the power companies have started a race in Spain to get rid of old plants that need expensive works if they want to continue operating. Of the 15 coal-fired power plants that are now in Spain – and that this 2018 have generated 14% of the country's electricity – nine will close in the next year and a half. At least, that's what their owners want. Iberdrola and Endesa have already submitted to the Government the request to close four of their plants. Naturgy – formerly Natural Gas – will shortly submit the same request for three of its plants. And without thermal plants, the future of mining, which was already drawn since the beginning of this decade, is even blacker.

Brussels accepted in 2010 – after pressures from Spain and Germany – that the deficit mines continue to receive public aid. But the main condition of this pact, which affected mainly Spain, Germany and Romania, was that the deposits had to close on December 31, 2018 at the most. If, on that date, the farms wanted to continue operating, they would have to be able to do so without public support and return all the aid received.


Millions of tons.

Source: REE.

In the case of Spain, apart from the early retirements and removals of the miners, the closure plan agreed with Brussels has meant that the 26 mines affected -owned by 15 companies- have received direct aid for the closing value of 504 since 2011 millions of euros.

The closing of the mines in Germany – fixed by the same plan of Brussels – was lived a week ago solemnly. "He finished a chapter of our history," said the Prime Minister of the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, during the closing ceremonies of the country's last coal field. Meanwhile, in Spain, far from that State funeral The Germans gave their mining, the presidents of Asturias, Aragon and Castilla y Leon met on Wednesday with the Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, to ask him to press the companies to "extend" the life of the plants and of some deposits.

Only two mining companies have shown interest in the ministry for continuing to operate. Sons of Baldomero García -company of El Bierzo (León), which has about 25 employees- and Samca -company from Teruel that has about 150 workers-. Apart from these two private companies, the public company Hunosa (which has a thousand miners still in Asturias) maintains that it will continue to operate a small well that has not received public aid.


Production in 2017, in thousands of tons

Source: Carbunion and European Commission.

The problem is with the two private companies. On the one hand, they must present a plan to return the aid they have received for the closure since 2011. Hijos de Baldomero García must reimburse 8.35 million euros and Samca, 8.5 million, according to government sources. Regardless of whether or not they are able to return those funds, the main stumbling block now would be who will sell the coal in the immediate future.

Hunosa anticipates that what they extract will burn directly in a small plant that they own. But in the case of the two mines of León and Teruel, the two largest thermal power plants that are closer are expected to close in the next year and a half, according to the request submitted by its owner, Endesa.


Workers in the Special Regime of Coal Mining.

Source: Ministry of Labor.

"In some regions, such as El Bierzo, the impact will be serious," government sources acknowledge. And not so much because of the closure of the mines, which already has a decommissioning plan with another 250 million public funds for the coming years, but for the end of the thermals. The Executive calculates that, between direct and indirect jobs with the nine power stations, 3,000 jobs will be lost in areas already hit by depopulation.

Waiting for a climate change law

"Unfortunately we closed the year without a climate change law," lamented this Friday Asunción Ruiz, director of the environmental NGO SEO / BirdLife. The Government's commitment was that the draft of this norm should reach Congress before the end of the year, but that has not happened. This standard will set the general objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the country, which are largely set by the policies of the European Commission. Spain participates in the climate summits -where these emissions reduction targets are established- within the European Union block, which is the one that sets the global goals for the still Twenty-eight. Then, the States share the efforts to fulfill the common objective of the EU.

But, apart from the measures included in the climate change law, which Congress already requested in 2011 from the Executive, where the current Government really has to get wet, it is in the energy and climate plan that it has to submit to the European Commission. It was also planned that this plan was ready by 2018, and that deadline has also been breached.

This plan is important because it will set the policies of Spain by 2030. For example, in this project the end of the generation of electricity with coal must be fixed, which means the closure of all thermals in the next decade. But the most controversial, and complicated, is the decision that the Executive of Pedro Sanchez has to take with the nuclear ones: if he fixes the total closure when he turns 40 years old or allows them to lengthen his life.


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