More EU Countries Are Giving Coal the Boot

Shutdowns of coal-fired power plants in Belgium and Scotland continue the continent’s shift away from the dirty fuel.
Longannet Power Station in Clackmannan, Scotland. (Photo: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)
Apr 7, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

The final lumps of coal were burned last week at the last remaining coal-fired power plant in Belgium, signaling an end to the coal power era in yet another European country.

Just last month, Scotland’s 115-year-long dependence on the dirty, carbon emission–spewing power source came to an end as the Longannet Power Station—once the largest coal plant in Europe—was switched off on March 24.

With plants idled all over the continent, now more than a quarter of European Union nations have quit coal, with Belgium and Scotland’s shutdowns bringing them in line with coal power–free countries Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

They will be joined by larger EU nations come 2025, when Portugal, Austria, Finland, and the rest of the U.K. have promised to rid their power grids of one of the dirtiest forms of energy production.

While fossil fuels such as natural gas are still part of these nations’ energy equations, clean renewable power from wind and solar farms is meeting record levels of their electricity needs.

“Belgium going coal free is yet another proof that the golden days of the coal industry are over,” Joanna Flisowska, policy coordinator at Climate Action Network Europe, said in a statement. “This is good news for the climate. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the EU has to ensure that carbon emissions from its coal power plants are cut down much faster than their current rate.”

Now, for the first time, the argument for cutting carbon emissions in favor of the environment—but at the expense of economic growth—isn’t holding up.

Annual global C02 emissions stayed flat—at 32.1 billion tons—for the second year in a row despite the global economy growing by more than 3 percent in back-to-back years, according to the latest data from the International Energy Agency.

In the 40 years the agency has been providing C02 emissions data, there have been four times when emissions stood still or dropped, three of which were associated with global economic weakness: the 1970s oil crisis, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the recession in 2009.

But for 2014 and 2015, the economy didn’t take the hit that typically comes in tandem with stagnating emissions.

“We now have seen two straight years of greenhouse gas emissions decoupling from economic growth,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement March 16. “Coming just a few months after the landmark COP21 agreement in Paris, this is yet another boost to the global fight against climate change.”

Keith Anderson, chief corporate officer at energy company Scottish Power, said carbon taxes and a government-wide push for cleaner and cost-competitive renewable energy sources is what drove the ouster of Scotland’s Longannet plant, stating that keeping it in operation would be “uneconomic.”

Now, the company is banking heavily on renewable energy systems, having invested nearly $1 billion in six onshore wind farms under construction.

“For the first time in more than a century no power produced in Scotland will come from burning coal,” Hugh Finlay, Scottish Power generation director, said in a statement. “Although Scottish Power is at the forefront of renewable energy development, we will be reflecting today on the important contribution that Longannet has made in keeping the lights on for millions of homes and businesses for nearly half a century.”