Balkan push for new coal-fired plants raises environmental concerns – by Maja Zuvela (Reuters U.S. – January 24, 2017)

SARAJEVO – A Chinese company began work on Monday on a $715 million expansion of a Serbian coal mine and a new power plant, part of a wave of investment in new coal-fired plants in the Balkans that is at odds with EU policy of reducing coal use.

China Machinery and Engineering Corp’s project to expand Kostolac, Serbia’s second biggest coal mine, and build a new 350 megawatt (MW) unit at a nearby power plant is the first new electricity capacity built in Serbia in nearly 30 years.

“Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS) is opening a new chapter,” Milorad Grcic, chief executive of Serbian power utility EPS, said in a statement marking the start of construction. The investment, majority financed by China’s Export Import Bank [EXIMC.UL], secured the future of the mine and power plant for half a century, he said.

Western Balkan countries, including Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, plan to invest billions of euros in building new coal-fired plants to meet rising demand for electricity as old plants are being phased out.

A total of 2,600 MW of new coal generating capacity is planned in the region in the next decade. But environmentalists fear the investment in coal could backfire as governments may be forced to invest hundreds of millions of euros more to upgrade plants to meet EU environmental standards as countries progress toward membership of the bloc.

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