The Spanish Royal Decree to avoid the closure of coal-fired power plants does not consider health and environmental criteria


The Spanish Ministry of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda’s draft Royal Decree to prohibit the closure of the Spanish coal-fired power plants makes no sense in the context of the present fight against climate change. Moreover, some of its provisions appear to contravene EU and Spanish legal requirements.

The draft makes no reference to Article 43 of the Spanish Constitution, which establishes the right to the protection of health, nor to Article 45, concerning the right to a healthy environment. In addition, this Royal Decree would appoint the Directorate General for Energy Policy and Mines as the competent authority responsible for assessing the compatibility of a plant’s closure with environmental and climate objectives. This responsibility should lie in a DG of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and the Environment (MAPAMA), which is ordinarily the competent Ministry for environmental matters.

The draft Royal Decree also imposes economically unreasonable obligations. It bases the prohibition decision on the plants’ accounts from the last three years – without any consideration of the high costs of adaptations that must be undertaken to comply with the Industrial Emissions Directive and continue operating after June 2020.

Spain’s coal power plants currently benefit from the ‘Transitional National Plan’ exemption, allowing them to emit higher levels of pollutants such as SO2, NOx and particles. To be able to operate from 2020 on, the utilities must invest to reduce their SO2 and NOx emissions– which will significantly reduce their impact on human health and the environment. The costs of this are huge. In a recent report, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) estimates that adaptation costs would be € 400 million – and this is only for three plants operated by Endesa (As Pontes (Galicia), Litoral (Andalucía) and Alcudia (Baleares). In the latter case, the Govern of Baleares has shown its interest in the closure of Es Murterar (Alcudia plant) in line with its Energy Transition regional plan. Total costs for entire coal fleet would be much higher.

Moreover, the legality of the retroactive effect of this draft Royal Decree is questionable. The draft’s transitional provision states that the Royal Decree will apply to all closures requested from 15 September 2017, contravening Spain’s Law on Government which requires Royal Decrees to enter into force only from the next January 2nd or July 1st (whichever is earlier) after their approval. According to that Law, if retroactivity is necessary the memo accompanying the draft Royal Decree should provide a reasoned justification for this – but there is no such justification in this case. As a result of this retroactive effect, Iberdrola´s request to close 2 plants, presented 10 November 2017, would fall under the scope of the Royal Decree.

The grounds provided in that draft Royal Decree for denying closure requests are also incoherent.  Spain has a minimum coverage index of 1,3, above the minimum of 1,1 established by the Ministry of Energy, so there is no real threat to security of supply, one of the permitted grounds for rejection. In addition, Spain’s future National Energy and Climate Plan, foreseen in the EU´s draft Winter Package, must set Spain’s objectives and contributions regarding the five dimensions of the Energy and Climate Union: decarbonization, objectives concerning renewables and energy efficiency, security, internal electricity market and R&D and competitiveness. This should enable Spain to deal with its security of supply concerns without prohibiting the closure of existing coal plants.

Within the context of Spain’s energy transition framework, there is a need to introduce more photovoltaic generation capacity in the system: Spain is not taking advantage of solar energy since only 4.5% of the installed capacity comes from the sun, while in countries such as Germany this figure is around 20%. It is remarkable that during this season the source of hydroelectric energy in Spain has been almost depleted due to the dramatic draught Spain territory is suffering. At the same time, it is mandatory to look for solutions that help to comply with the international commitments of Spain, especially with the Paris Agreement.

“This Royal Decree makes no sense at a time when Spain is also working in developing a Climate Change and Energy Transition Law. It clearly shows a lack of vision and foresight in the medium term: a large number of coal power plants will have to close by July 2020 and, in any case, at the latest by 2030. This is necessary for Spain to comply with its international commitments – and also by concern for the state of our Planet. Now it is time for political parties, governments, trade unions, business and civil society to come together to prepare and implement an orderly and progressive closure plan, which provides for measures to ensure a just transition for the affected regions” says Ana Barreira, IIDMA´s Director.


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