Portugal has joined the UK in smashing records for days without coal power this year, with its Pego power plant suspending power production on 14 March. This follows Portugal’s other, much larger plant, Sines, halting operations 48 days earlier on 26 January, improving a run of cleaner air for the country that began 100 days ago.
Reduced economic activity due to COVID-19 has contributed to lowered electricity demand across Europe, but in Portugal the growth of renewable energy and the costs associated with CO2 emissions were already pushing coal out before the pandemic. In the last two months alone renewable electricity production grew by 14.5% compared to the same period in 2019 – up from 63% to 77% of the national total.
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“Portugal has been a leader on the transition to renewable energy, and this record of 52 days without coal shows that a cleaner, healthier future is there for us if we choose it,” said Francisco Ferreira, president of the Portuguese environmental organisation ZERO. “We were already expecting 2021 and 2023 as the closure dates for Portugal’s two coal plants, but as we are on track to go beyond even this 52 day record, it is very likely that we can move beyond coal even sooner than anticipated, without jeopardising security of supply.”
“While the reasons for the current decline in pollution are unwanted and tragic, people across Europe are seeing the benefits of cleaner air and water that come with reductions in fossil fuel burning. We can – and must – make better decisions about energy sources, and Portugal is demonstrating that renewables can replace coal,” said Kathrin Gutmann, Europe Beyond Coal campaign director. “Our leaders are increasingly getting behind a Green New Deal for Europe. The job ahead of us is to build a thriving, resilient economy that builds on a renewables-based power sector and that can work for everyone.”
When Pego and Sines do close, Portugal will join Belgium, Sweden, and Austria in completely eliminating coal in electricity production since the UN Paris Climate Agreement was signed. Six more countries are expected to follow suit and eliminate coal for electricity production by 2025 or earlier, including France (2022), Slovakia (2023), Portugal (2023), the UK (2024), Ireland (2025) and Italy (2025); and five more by 2030 or earlier, which is the necessary end date for coal generation in Europe for the continent to be in line with the UN Paris climate agreement. This includes Greece (2028), the Netherlands (2029), Finland (2029), Hungary (2030), and Denmark (2030). Germany intends to exit coal by 2038, according to its yet-to-be adopted coal exit law – too late to honour its commitments under the UN Paris climate agreement.
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