Netherlands' climate goals achievable by closing 3 coal plants: study

The coal operated power plant at Eemshaven
The RWE coal operated power plant at Eemshaven, Groningen. Nov. 23, 2012WutsjeWikimedia CommonsCC-BY-SA

The Netherlands could still achieve the emission reduction goals set in the so-called Urgenda ruling, if it closes three almost new coal-fired power stations at the start of next year, research agency CE Delft concluded in a study done at the request of Natuur & Milieu, Greenpeace and the Lung Fund. Closing the coal plants will also not be very expensive, costing 760 million euros, the Volkskrant reports.

The environmental organizations have been calling for the coal plants to close for years, but the government is reluctant. At the end of this year, only the Hemweg power station in Amsterdam will close. The others will stay open until January 1st, 2030. The government worries that closure will cost a lot of money in the short term, and that the CO2 emissions will largely "leak away" to foreign countries, which means there will be no benefit for the climate.

But according to CE Delft, both these fears are unfounded. The research agency examined the consequences of the closure of the two coal-fired power stations on Maasvlakte and the one on Eemshaven. 

According to the researchers, if these three plants are closed, electricity production will largely shift to domestic plants. Gas power plants, which were shut down in the past years because coal power was cheaper, will start operating again. Gas-fired power stations emit half the CO2 emitted by coal-fired power station. On balance, emissions in the Netherlands will fall by around 9 million tons - exactly enough to comply with the Urgenda ruling, which was previously said to be unachievable. In this ruling, the court ordered the Netherlands to reduce CO2 emissions by 25 percent in 2020 compared to 1990.

Some of the power supply will come from coal- and gas-fired power stations abroad, which will mean more emissions. But here too, there is still a real environmental impact in Europe of 4 to 6 million tons of CO2 less, according to CE Delft. 

The research agency also calculated the cost. Closing the three plants will cost their operators 2 billion euros in revenues until 2030 - the year in which the plants would close in any case. But on the other hand, the treasury will save a considerable amount - all three power stations have received considerable subsidy commitments for burning wood pellets. If they close next year, most of the promised subsidies do not have to be paid out. That saves the treasury 1.2 billion euros in spending. On balance, closing the three power plants will only cost the state 760 million euros, according to the researchers.

The closure of the three plants will make electricity more expensive, not only in the Netherlands but also in neighboring countries. The electricity bill per family could increase by around 15 euros per year, according to CE Delft. 

Last year Minister Eric Wiebes of Economic Affairs asked research agency Frontier Economics to calculate the effects of closing the coal plants in 2030. The agency concluded that emissions in the Netherlands will fall by 8 million tons net, and that the price of electricity would increase by 1.4 euros per megawatt hour, around 2 percent - similar to what CE Delft predicts if the plants are closed next year, according to the newspaper.