North Macedonia considers coal phase out between 2025-2040

SKOPJE, Feb 24 (Reuters) - North Macedonia is planning to end its use of coal for energy production by 2040 at the latest and sees a phase-out by 2025 as the cheapest option in two of three scenarios, environmental groups which helped draw up the strategy said on Monday.

A final decision on which pathway the country will take will be made later this year, the groups said.

Of the three energy scenarios drawn up by the government of the European Union aspirant country, two aim for 2025 and the third delays the phase out until 2040, when the Bitola power plant is scheduled to shut down.

“The...government clearly understands that the end of coal is looming and has taken the initiative to protect the health of its people, its economy, and our climate,” said Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director for Europe Beyond Coal group.

The two early departure scenarios take into account the costs related to the EU’s carbon emissions trading scheme.

“The fact that two out of three scenarios stipulate an exit from coal by 2025 as the least cost option shows just how much of a liability coal has become,” she added.

While Western Europe has been moving away from coal to meet climate goals, the Western Balkans remains home to seven of the ten most polluting coal-fired power plants in Europe.

About 1,600 people are estimated to die prematurely every year as a result of exposure to air pollution in North Macedonia, where coal accounts for about a half of power generation, the World Bank said in a report in November.

The estimated economic cost linked to mortality from exposure to air pollution there was in the range of $500–900 million annually, equivalent to 5.2–8.5% of national output in 2016, the World Bank report found.

The 27-member EU plans net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century, but faces resistance from its more coal-dependent members, led by Poland.

North Macedonia issued a tender last week seeking investors to build in a partnership with the state power utility ESM a 100 megawatt (MW) solar park at the site of a coal mine.

Reporting by Maja Zuvela and Kole Casule; editing by Philippa Fletcher