Re-posted from the Sierra Club Compass blog, as we continue to support efforts to stop a new coal-fired power plant in Kosovo.

It’s getting harder and harder for the World Bank to turn their heads and ignore the glaring problems that plague its planned 600 MW lignite-fired power plant project in Kosovo.  Opposition to the proposed “Kosovo C” coal plant is mounting, with protests spreading from the project site in Obiliq, Kosovo earlier this month right to the doors of the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

Sierra Club members, joined by activists from around the world, helped make Kosovo C a focal point at the World Bank’s Spring Meetings this past weekend.  Outside the barricades, in bright yellow Beyond Coal tee-shirts, Sierra Club campaigners distributed fact sheets detailing the shortcomings of the Kosovo C project to thousands of Bank employees, delegations from member countries, and reporters as they entered the meetings. 

Meanwhile, inside the Bank complex, a panel on Kosovo’s Options for a Sustainable Energy Future drew over fifty attendees, including Bank members, civil society organizers, and press, as well as several members of the World Bank Inspection Panel.  The Inspection Panel is currently entertaining a complaint against the Kosovo C project, and is scheduled to visit Kosovo at the end of May to determine if an investigation is warranted.   

“It is encouraging to see partners around the world support the Kosovan civil society in raising awareness for the serious deficiencies of the Bank’s coal project in my country,” said Nezir Sinani, a Kosovan activist with the Institute for Development Policy who is leading the international campaign against the Kosovo C project.

WB flyering 3“It is important to get the Bank to understand that the message sent out by activists at their doorstep reflects local feelings in Kosovo and will not go away until the Bank shifts the proposed coal investments into much-needed renewable sources, energy efficiency, and regional cooperation.”

“But Kosovo needs more power” was a common response to arguments against the Kosovo C plant, even from those within the Bank with some knowledge of the project.  While superficially true, this ignores the complexity of Kosovo’s energy crisis and illustrates many of the problems with the World Bank’s approach. 

The Kosovo energy sector suffers from severe inefficiency, losing nearly 40 percent of the energy it produces due to waste, deterioration of its out-dated distribution system, and “non-technical losses” (i.e. theft).  In addition, its two existing coal plants currently run at about half-capacity due to poor maintenance and mismanagement.  The Kosovo Panel illustrated how, with modest investment in infrastructural improvements and measures to increase efficiency to even moderate levels, the existing 600 MW “Kosovo B” coal plant would be more than sufficient to meet Kosovo’s current base-load demand of approximately 450 MW, even after the antiquated, polluting “Kosovo A” plant is closed for good. 

Further, the real deficiency in Kosovo’s energy production is an inability to meet peak-period energy demands, resulting in chronic blackouts at high-demand times such as after sunset when the population collectively turns on the lights.  This requires versatile peak-period supply – such as natural-gas plants or small-scale hydro, wind, and solar projects – which can be ramped up and down quickly to meet immediate changes in demand. 

A giant coal plant is pretty much the worst-equipped form of energy production to provide this peak demand.  Coal plants cannot be ramped up and down quickly, instead providing a high level of steady “base-load” output.  Accordingly, 600 MW of added base-load capacity is the last thing Kosovo’s energy sector needs; it would require drastic increases in electricity rates to recoup its massive costs, and would not even solve the peak-period demand problem, something the World Bank has stubbornly refused to understand.   

Coupled with these technical problems are the severe environmental and public health concerns raised by adding another long-term lignite-fired power plant to the already pollution-addled region near Kosovo’s capital.  Lignite is the dirtiest form of coal, spewing carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and other harmful pollutants into the air at levels that will exceed EU and World Bank air quality standards in the region.  In local communities situated directly down-wind from the existing plants, one-in-three residents already suffers from coal-related respiratory illnesses.  If approved, the proposed Kosovo C plant would lock this region into dirty coal production for years to come. 

Collectively, these myriad problems make the Kosovo C project a potential nightmare for the Bank, which it is hoping attracts as little attention as possible.  Following significant backlash against the Bank in 2010 for funding a massive 4800 MW coal plant built in South Africa by the public utility Eskom which also failed to account for the actual impacts of the plant on human health and the environment in the region, the Bank cannot be looking forward to another highly-public battle over its dirty coal lending practices. 

Which is where we come in.  Sierra Club activists and our partners around the world are watching.  After these Spring Meetings, the World Bank knows just how closely.  With our continuing efforts to raise awareness of this ill-advised project, a highly-public battle over dirty coal lending is exactly what the World Bank is going to get.

— Gordon Scott, Sierra Club International Program Intern. Photos by Nezir Sinani.