In addition to CO2 emissions which are used to rank Europe’s dirtiest power stations, coal combustion causes other types of air pollution, such as nitrous oxides and sulphur dioxides. Just four companies – Enea, RWE, PGE, and ENEL – were responsible for 46 percent of these emissions in 2018.
A Polish energy utility which owns Bogdanka, a hard coal mine located near Lublin in Southeast Poland, and over six GW capacity in coal units. Its CO2 emission reduction strategy is incompatible with IPCC recommendations.
Germany’s largest provider of coal-powered electricity. RWE also operates the world’s largest opencast lignite coal mine – the Hambach mine – in the Rhineland and imports coal that is burnt in the company’s hard coal power stations. RWE lobbied hard against a German coal phase-out. The company’s investments in renewable energy were outsourced to daughter company Innogy. Following the sale and partition of Innogy, renewables are now back at RWE. This is how the company aims to be carbon-neutral by 2040.
Poland’s largest utility provider. The director of PGE’s Brussels office was dismissed for saying that PGE will phase-out coal by 2040- 2045, which he claimed was comparable with Germany. PGE plans to build three more coal units in 2020.
The largest Italian energy utility. ENEL operates globally, including in Latin American countries. According to campaign group Stop Enel, “these projects are tied together by a common thread of a colonial legacy, which include anti-democratic national legislation and clearly deficient environmental impact assessments, biased towards the corporate sector.” Enel says it will phase out coal internationally in 2025.
Air pollution from coal power stations
The following gases and substances are the by-product of burning coal.
Nitrous oxides (NOx): Visible as smog; irritate lung tissue; exacerbate asthma; and increase susceptibility to chronic respiratory diseases.
Sulphur dioxides (SO2): Combine with other molecules to form small, acidic particulates that can penetrate human lungs; linked to asthma and bronchitis; associated with smog and acid rain which damages crops and other ecosystems, and acidifies lakes and streams.
Dust: Measured as PM10 although smaller PM2.5 particles are more harmful; linked to chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, cardiovascular effects like heart attacks, and premature death.
Mercury: A toxic heavy metal that causes air and water pollution; can damage the nervous, digestive, and immune systems; is a serious threat to child development.
Carbon dioxide (CO2): Released when coal is burnt; a potent greenhouse gas causing climate change.
Methane: Released when coal is mined; 34 times stronger at trapping heat than CO2 over a 100-year period.
Health impacts from 156 of the European hard coal power stations caused the premature death of 5,201 people in 2016. These deaths were avoidable.