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Environmentalists oppose lignite mine projects in North Macedonia

25.May 2022.

The general manager of state-owned utility ESM said it would open two lignite mines, which was strongly condemned by environmentalist organization Eko-svest. The mine opening was announced in the context of new challenges with the energy crisis in North Macedonia and the next heating season, while the environmentalists claim that coal mines are unacceptable from environmental, energy and economic aspects.

Economy Minister Kreshnik Bekteshi said the government has so far helped government-controlled electricity producer Elektrani na Severna Makedonija (ESM) with EUR 171 million to cover the rise in electricity and heating costs that was caused by the energy crisis. General Manager Vasko Kovačevski announced at the same press conference that two lignite mines would be opened.

Kovačevski: Results come after a long time, and the effect of what is done in energy today will be seen in three to five years

“The crisis has prompted the need to use the mines for longer, so we are investing in our own new pits: the Živojno mine in REK Bitola and the Gušterica mine in REK Oslomej. But it must be acknowledged that results in the energy sector come after a long time, and the effect of what is done today in energy will be seen in three to five years. We have endured a great blow – we are preparing for the future. First and foremost, for the new challenges with the energy crisis and the next heating season,” ESM’s general manager said.

Environmentalists say no to new lignite mines

Eko-svest pointed out coal mining projects are “unacceptable from environmental, energy and economic aspects” and that they are contrary to all strategies and declared commitments of North Macedonia.

After the Živojno lignite mine was included in the list of submitted projects for the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkansthe first assumption was that it was an unintentional mistake and a remnant of some old plans dating back to before the 2040 Energy Development Strategy,” the environmentalist group said.

Eko-svest: The first assumption was that it was an unintentional mistake and a remnant of some old plans dating back to before the 2040 Energy Development Strategy

Eko-svest added ESM has also conducted several tenders since 2019 for the preparation of documentation for the mines.

The environmentalists pointed out that such actions in the energy sector are unacceptable – regardless of whether the announcement is an independent initiative of ESM or coordinated with the government and the Ministry of Economy.

“It is one thing to turn to emergency imports of coal to tackle the energy crisis for a number of months, but quite another to completely undermine all attempts at energy transition and just transition. Opening a new mine will only worsen the situation,” said Nevena Smilevska from Eko-svest.

Contrary to plans

All this is occurring at a time when planning documents are being developed and adopted for an accelerated energy transformation and the reduction of fossil fuel use – which set the country as a leader within the Energy Community in terms of plans for transformation of the energy sector, environmentalists stressed.

Pehčevski: There is no justifiable reason to spend time, capacity, and finances on projects that will take the country many steps back.

“All investments in the energy sector that will be undertaken from today on must be in accordance with the obligations of the strategies and international agreements,” said Davor Pehčevski from Eko-svest. He added there is no justifiable reason to waste time, capacities, and finances on projects that would set the country many steps back and continue endangering the environment and the population.

It is necessary to work on a just transition and gradual reduction of personnel in lignite mines, not to open new mines, Eko-svest added, Balkan Green Energy News reports.