Russian Gas: In times of war, it is right to reopen coal fired power plants, says Italy

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India, portal publishing news and current affairs. He holds an M.B.A in International Business from the Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA. Twitter: @chackojoseph *views are Personal.

The war in Ukraine has also had repercussions in Italy, particularly regarding the supply of gas from Russia. Due to the risks associated with the possible shortage of this energy source, the government is thinking of going back to using Coal.

“The Government is moving forward on the ecological transition which it obviously considers a priority, but at the moment, as President Draghi said, we must move from a market economy to a war economy,” said the minister for regional affairs and autonomies, Mariastella Gelmini. She was speaking at a Forza Italia conference. “If there is a need to reopen some coal-fired power plants, I think that in wartime, you also do what you need,” she said.

The support comes after Prime Minister Mario Draghi said that Coal powered plants might be an option. 

“Coal-fired power plants may need to be reopened to fill any shortcomings in the near future,” said Prime Minister Draghi, in the briefing to the Chamber on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Coal is a highly polluting fossil source. Italy, together with other countries, at the Glasgow conference of 2021, had committed itself to no longer using Coal. Now, due to the surge in bill prices and, in particular, the problem in the supply of gas, Italy is thinking of a step back.

The Coal output was to be offset by gas, the price of which is rising. The conversion of power plants from Coal to gas is now blocked by the surge in the price of raw materials.

Italy’s Coal fired power plants

In all, there are seven Coal fired power plants in Italy, two of which were reactivated at the end of 2021 with the intensification of the tension between Russia and Ukraine.

The plants are located in La Spezia in Liguria; Fiume Santo and Portoscuso in Sardinia; Brindisi in Puglia; Torrevaldaliga in Lazio; Fusina in Veneto; and Monfalcone in Friuli Venezia Giulia.

Five of these plants are from Enel. A2A owns the Monfalcone plant. The second coal-fired power plant in Sardinia’s northern part belongs to the Czech Eph group.

Little Coal in Italy

In January 2021, the production of coal plants covered just 4.9% of the Italian energy needs. To combat climate change, Italy has decided to eliminate this energy source by 2025. All seven Italian power plants together have a capacity of 2,640 MW, which is one of the largest in Europe. In Germany, 24% and in the United Kingdom, 23% of the power is generated from Coal. 

Since last December, La Spezia’s coal-fired activities have restarted. The Montefalcone plant has also returned to operation, for which the reconversion works had begun.

Why is Coal still used for power generation?

The strength of Coal lies in its high energy yield, immediate availability, ease of commissioning. However, using it involves paying very high quotas in the European market for polluting rights. The problem is that CO 2 emissions are 30% higher than oil and 70% higher than natural gas. Furthermore, carbon dioxide, mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and other heavy metals are dispersed into the environment.

Yet during the recent perfect energy storm, there was no hesitation in turning to Coal, and everything suggests that it will not be the last time. The diabolical concomitance was between the increase of up to 400% in the international price of gas due in turn to a jumble of geopolitical reasons and the surge in demand because it has begun to get cold. 

In the meantime, the Italian industry is pulled between the frenzy for the economic recovery and the unexpected blockade of four French nuclear power plants causing the bottleneck of electricity imports. 

The resorting to old smokey, the coal protagonist of the nineteenth century industrial revolution that is still with Italy. It seems the almost obligatory path.

Bureaucratic brakes on renewables

Italy cannot count on renewables due to the bureaucracy. For the approval to build a wind or solar power plant, it takes between two and five years only for the authorization procedures. Then there are 140 procedures for connection to the electricity grid for new renewable energy plants.

Italy is a staunch opponent of nuclear power plants which Europe now considers as renewable energy

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