Coal plant could revive Kosovo economy
By Ethem Ceku
International and local reports indicate that economic stagnation is one of Kosovo's most serious challenges. The financial crisis in Europe has made the situation worse. Lawlessness in north Kosovo, inhabited mainly by Kosovar Serbs, is at the same putting at risk its territorial integrity.
In order to promote growth, reduce unemployment and foster stability, the government should look to best practice in Germany and Scandinavia on how to use its human and natural resources.
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These countries and regions are at a much more advanced stage, but they can help Prishtina understand how to capitalise on its young labour force and how to use its extensive road, rail and air infrastructure, as well as its access to sea ports in Durres, Thessaloniki and Bari in nearby countries.
In this context, Kosovo's lignite reserves offer a great opportunity in the energy sector.
European Commission and World-Bank-sponsored surveys have found that Kosovo's exploitable reserves of lignite are between 11 and 14 billion tonnes. Lead and zinc reserves are about 60 million tonnes, making our Trepca mine one of the most valuable in Europe.
There has been some controversy on whether Kosovo needs more power plants. But this part of Europe has an energy production shortage of about 11,000 MGWs/year. With long-term, private and public sector investment in lignite extraction and electricity generation, Kosovo could help fill this gap, bring in badly needed income for the state and create work for thousands of men and women.
The so-called Kosova C power plant project has been targeted by environmental campaigners who say lignite will contribute to pollution problems.
But their concerns are based on standards in existing power plants, without taking into consideration the kind of new technology that would be used in Kosova C. Studies by local research institute INKOS, Finnish company Poyry Energy and the World Bank have provided details that should reassure anybody who is worried about lignite and the purity of air and water in our country.
Lignite is not an outdated energy source: It accounts for about 40 percent of world energy output. It accounts for the majority of production in Germany and is used extensively in the US. With surging demand for power in China and Idia, coal, oil and gas are with us to stay for many years to come.
Meanwhile, new technologies of treating related ash and CO2 emissions make lignite acceptable in terms of international green standards. Kosovo has signed up to all the EU standards - among the highest in the world - on the energy sector. Within these constraints, Kosovo has the right to exploit its natural resources for reviving its economy and compete with others in the region.
The government of Kosovo under the terms of the constitution is responsible for promoting economic development.
But, at the same time there are some weird ideas on energy within the current government coalition which are not helpful at all to Kosovo’s economic potential and its ambitions to stand on its own two feet.
Some say we should rely more on Russian gas delivered by pipelines to Serbia. But I am strongly opposed to this - given the antipathy between Kosovars and Serbs, indeed, the lingering antipathy between the West and Russia, I believe such a solution is unacceptable in practical, economic and geopolitical terms.
Since 2007 the World Bank has done nothing for Kosova C, our own ideas for the project have changed several times, a lot of money has been spent and very few decisions have been made.
Kosovo's local economy loses about a €1 billion a year due to energy restrictions. Its impoverished government spends hundreds of millions of Euros to import energy from the regional market.
Alternative energy sources such as water, sun or wind are not sufficient to meet all demands, although we must look into developing them also as secondary sources and set up clear targets and launch projects according to Western European rules and aims.
With the help of its European and American partners, Kosovo can still be a success story, but the time to act is now.
Ethen Ceku is the former minister of energy in Kosovo