Huge hydroelectric project to help Portugal eliminate coal: PM

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RIBEIRA DE PENA, Portugal (Reuters) - A vast hydroelectric project under construction in northern Portugal will directly replace the power lost when the Iberian country closes its last coal plants, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Tuesday.

Portugal was the first country in the world to commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and last October it brought forward a deadline for closing its last coal plants to 2023.

The Sines plant owned by domestic utility EDP will close only when a hydroelectric complex with three dams, plants and pumped-storage station being built by Spanish wind giant Iberdrola in the Douro River basin begins operating.

“We will only close the Sines plant in 2023, because it will only be in 2023 that we will be able to count on this system for the country’s energy supply,” Costa told reporters at a sub-station for the complex, named Tamega.

Ensuring stable electricity supply from renewable sources that rely on the intermittent movement of wind blowing or the sun shining is one of the stickiest questions facing countries around the world as they strive to reduce carbon emissions.

Once completed, the Tamega complex will act as a “natural battery”, Costa said.

It will have capacity to supply 2 million homes, through a process of collecting water, then storing and generating energy by moving it between reservoirs at a height difference of more than 650 meters (710 yards)

Iberdrola Chief Executive Ignacio Galan said such storage technology was vital to achieve emissions-cutting targets.

“If you don’t have these plants you need fossil fuel plants,” he told Reuters. “To reach the zero-emissions target you need systems that emit zero.”

Reporting by Isla Binnie; Additional reporting by Catarina Demony in Lisbon; Editing by Jonathan Oatis