STA, 2 April 2019 - The coal-fired power plant in Šoštanj (TEŠ) has been given the green light to import coal, the public broadcaster TV Slovenija reported on Monday evening. The Environment Agency (ARSO) decided that TEŠ requires no new environmental permit for mixing the lignite from Velenje with imported coal.
According to the document obtained by TV Slovenija, TEŠ plans to have 1,200 tonnes of coal transported to Šoštanj by train every day.
The coal is to be mixed with the lignite from the near-by Velenje mine, so locals are concerned that the greenhouse gas emissions will increase as a result.
But ARSO says the change will have no impact on the health of the local population, which is why no new environmental permit is required, TV Slovenija reported.
According to Environment Minister Simon Zajc, the fact that the viable coal reserves at the Velenje mine are running out is an additional reason why TEŠ should be shut down before its lifespan expires.
Valter Kolar of the Šoštanj Civil Initiative said ARSO had not asked the local community for their opinion at all.
The power utility HSE, which owns TEŠ as well as the country's sole coal mine in Velenje, said that TEŠ would continue to be powered by lignite from Velenje while importing coal is only an alternative option for the time being.
TEŠ confirmed this for the STA today, saying it was not looking for a coal supplier and that importing coal was neither in its annual nor mid-term plans.
According to HSE, importing coal would be costlier than the lignite from Velenje and would raise TEŠ's annual costs by some EUR 20m a year.
TEŠ said it had only requested for a permit for importing coal at the end of last year to reduce the risks to the stable functioning of the power plant in the future.
In line with its valid environmental permit from 2010, the power plant is allowed to produce electricity by burning exclusively lignite from the Velenje mine.
Any plans for a change in operations must be reported to ARSO. If the change is minor, a new environmental permit is not necessary but if major changes are planned, a new permit is required.
The former environment minister, Jure Leben, said in early February that before issuing a permit for TEŠ to import coal, it should be determined whether those in charge of building the controversial unit six, TEŠ6, had misled the public about the quality and quantity of coal reserves at the Velenje mine.
The Velenje municipality said today that TEŠ should burn exclusively coal from the area, which was what had been asserted when TEŠ6 was being built.
The municipality is shocked by ARSO's decision allowing the imports of coal without any additional permits.
Units five and six were never not meant to be in operation at the same time, but now unit 5 is also running despite lower efficiency and bigger coal consumption, which has a negative impact on the environment, the municipality said.
If the coal from the Velenje mine was used more prudently, there would be no problems now, it added.