Czech government backs partial lifting of lignite mining limits

Czech government backs partial lifting of lignite mining limits
By Gabriela Gandovska October 19, 2015

The Czech government has agreed to partially lift restrictions on brown coal mining, Industry Minister Jan Mladek announced on October 19.

The limits were imposed in 1991 to prevent disrupting local communities in the north west of the country, as well as environmental damage. The coalition government, however, reopened discussion on the issue soon after coming to power in January 2014, claiming the country needs to expand lignite output to extend the life of its ageing power station fleet.

Under the plan, mining limits at the Bilina mine - owned by state-controlled CEZ - will be lifted, Mladek said, according to CTK. However, they will remain in place for Severni Energeticka's CSA mine, because it lies too close to villages. The move will offer CEZ access to additional reserves of up to 120mn tonnes of coal, and extend mining until 2055, the minister said in a statement.

CEZ operates 13 coal-fired power plants, many in the northern part of the country in the vicinity of the mines. The plants account for 44% of the company’s domestic electricity output.

The decision follows lengthy discussions by the three-party coalition government. Proponents say lifting the limits will raise reserves and enable power generators to extend the life of their coal-fired power and heating plants. However, opponents claim that extending mining could lead to the destruction of villages and further environmental damage.

Ondrej Pasek of CEE Bankwatch Network - an environmental NGO - blasted the move. The NGO claims that health costs and related economic losses will cost the country €370mn and the European Union almost €5bn.

"The Czech government has sent a clear signal to the public and made a mockery of the EU’s commitment to a low-carbon transition," he said in a statement. "While the government has received billions of euros in EU funds for much needed energy savings measures, today’s decision makes those investments wasted money and a step backwards for the Czech energy sector and economy."

“It was not an easy step," Mladek admitted, "but it’s a responsible one regarding the energy security of our country in the coming decades." Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka meanwhile was keen to note that at least the move won't demand the destruction of villages, as happened during communist times. 

"This partial lifting of limits at Bilina will not require the demolition of houses or radically infringe on the life of nearby communities," the PM claimed, according to Radio Praha. "I think we have agreed on a viable compromise here and it is important to stress that we will need this coal for the heating industry, electric power plants and households."