At least two, possibly three people were killed Friday in a massive explosion at a coal-fired power plant in Kosovo, a plant that the World Bank has deemed the worst polluter in Europe, according to multiple media reports.
The blast at the 450-megawatt, Kosovo power plant was suspected to be caused by a gas explosion, though plant owner Kosovo Energy Corporation has not yet confirmed the cause.
The 40-year old plant produces more than 30 percent of electricity in the Balkan country, the second-poorest in Europe, which still suffers chronic power shortages 15 years after breaking free of Serbia during the collapse of federal Yugoslavia.
Since then, there has been a struggle in Kosovo to break free of coal as well. Specifically, the country’s plants burn lignite, a type of coal that emits more greenhouse gases than any other fossil fuel and is blamed for more than 800 premature deaths a year in Kosovo. And according to Nazir Sinani, a former Kosovo Energy Corporation worker, the explosion was far from the first time employees of the country’s coal industry have tragically lost their lives. In the last 15 years, he said, more than 30 workers have died in coal-related accidents.
“In an old establishment such as this plant, expecting that such accidents won’t happen would be a mistake,” Sinani told ThinkProgress.
Sinani, who now works as a climate change coordinator at the non-profit Bank Information Center, is now working to oppose the government of Kosovo’s latest proposal to build a new, 600 megawatt coal plant to replace the old one. As Kosovo stands on the world’s fifth largest reserve of lignite, the plant would continue to use it, and the government is asking the World Bank to help finance the $1.4 billion project.
Though the World Bank has not yet indicated whether it will support the new project, it does seem to be at odds with the institution’s recent pledge to focus on energy projects that promote clean air. The U.S., which is the largest shareholder of the World Bank, has also called for an end to U.S. government support for public financing of new coal plants overseas, unless the project is in a poor country where no economically feasible alternative exists.
Fortunately, however, a 2012 study from the University of California at Berkeley found that Kosovo has wind, biomass, solar, hydro, and energy efficiency resources available that are more than sufficient to meet the 600-megawatt supply needs. And as Greentechmedia notes, European investors have already proposed over 200 megawatts of privately funded wind energy investments in Kosovo.
For Sinani, tragedies like Friday’s only reinforce the need to make the switch.
“What’s most important to get across at this time is that I think this tragic accident should be a wake up call to the nation that producing energy from coal is an archaic and dangerous thing to do in the 21st century when we have abundant safe, and clean sources of energy,” he said. “It is the ultimate time that they rethink their strategy and start developing Kosovo’s renewable, clean and safe sources of energy.”