Energy sector facing huge challenge in green transition

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Ljubljana – As debate continues in Slovenia on a coal phaseout strategy, Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak set out the size of the challenge faced by the energy industry to make up for the loss of key sources of energy while having to meet growing needs.

The debate, hosted by the upper chamber of parliament on Friday, comes amid growing concerns that due to rising costs of emission coupons, Slovenia could be forced to close down the Šoštanj coal-fired power station (TEŠ) even earlier than in 2033, the year favoured in the emerging coal phaseout strategy.

“We know we have to and will gradually close down the Velenje mine and the Šoštanj thermal plant, as well as that there will be a shortfall due to the end of the lifespan of the existing unit at the Krško nuclear power plant,” said Vizjak.

“This means that we’ll lose more than two-thirds of the production sources. At the same time we must set off those losses and increase our production by 50% due to increased consumption,” Vizjak said, adding “the task is immense and the time short”.

TEŠ generates a third of Slovenia’s annual electricity output, while the nuclear power station in Krško, co-owned by Slovenia and Croatia, provides more than one-quarter of Slovenia’s and 15% of Croatia’s power.

Under original plans, the Krško plant’s 40-year span ends in 2023, but plans are afoot to extend it by twenty years, and the government has been in favour of building of a new reactor.

Despite the difficulty of the task ahead, Vizjak sees the challenges as opportunities. The funds are available, “it only takes inventiveness and coming up with suitable projects”.

Vizjak said the government was willing to work with local communities, regions and businesses to make the transformation where the Savinja-Šalešk region, which is home to TEŠ and the Velenje mine, could serve as the first pilot region.

Similarly, Blaž Košorok, a state secretary at the Infrastructure Ministry, said the energy sector had not faced such a challenge since independence and earlier.

He said the date of the coal phaseout would be a political decision that the government was required to take by the end of the year, but it would be ideal if the decision was taken prior to the country’s presidency of the Council of the EU, which beings in July.

Aleksander Mervar, the CEO of the national grid operator ELES, said it was misleading to claim TEŠ and the nuclear station could be replaced instantly through dispersed energy sources.

Meanwhile, local officials from the Savinja-Šalek region called for a just rather than controlled transition, which they said meant securing 5,000 new jobs to replace those linked to coal with comparable salaries and sufficient funds to implement projects.