Your questions answered: are coal-fired power plants really the only solution?

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Coal-fired power plants are again allowed to operate at full power, the cabinet announced on Monday. We asked you what you would like to know about this decision. In this article, we answer the five most frequently asked questions.

1. How does this help solve the gas crisis?

This can be confusing: the decision to produce more electricity with coal-fired power plants to save gas. It is however the case. Electricity is currently produced in gas-fired power plants in the Netherlands.

Coal-fired power plants were only allowed to operate at 35% capacity during the 2022-2024 period. It is estimated that between 2.5 and 3 billion cubic meters of additional gas were consumed by gas-fired power plants. This can now be saved.

The cabinet took this decision so that the security of supply is not endangered next winter. All European countries have gas storage facilities, where gas is stored every year in the summer for the winter. The Netherlands is sticking to its filling schedule well, but other European countries are having more and more difficulties, explained the Minister of Energy and Climate, Rob Jetten. Especially now that Russia is starting to pinch more countries, like Italy and Germany.

The gas that is saved in the Netherlands today is not used piecemeal to fill storage facilities here, but this lightens the European gas market. This will therefore facilitate filling for other countries, especially as countries take similar measures. Germany will also relight coal-fired power plants.

2. Doesn’t this cause power capacity problems?

The power grid in the Netherlands is “full” in many places, which means that companies cannot get new connections and solar parks have to queue to be connected. But running coal-fired power plants at full capacity has no bearing on this problem.

Capacity problems are mainly caused by the many solar panels which sometimes suddenly supply a lot of electricity and by customers who want to consume more and more electricity.

Coal-fired power stations will operate instead of natural gas-fired power stations and will therefore not burden the electricity grid. They must, however, ensure that we can still produce enough electricity if less gas is available, for example because Russia cuts Europe’s supply even further.

3. What does this decision mean for climate goals?

The additional use of coal-fired power plants also leads to additional CO2 emissions. In fact, the cabinet hoped to save 4 to 4.5 megatonnes of emissions per year by limiting the production of coal-fired power plants. Because this will not happen within the next 2.5 years, a total of about 10 additional megatons of CO2 will be released into the air.

It’s also a bitter pill for Jetten. “You have to take steps that you never thought possible before,” he said on Monday. Nevertheless, the so-called Urgenda target will probably be achieved this year. Gas consumption in the Netherlands fell by a quarter due to high prices and a relatively warm spring, which also led to significant CO2 savings.

This is why we are aiming for a reduction in CO2 emissions of around 30% compared to 1990, well above the Urgenda climate target.

According to Jetten, reaching the Urgenda target in 2023 and 2024 is less certain. It is partly for this reason that he wants to offset the additional emissions from coal-fired power plants by focusing on energy savings. The exact measures that will be taken for this purpose will have to be announced after the summer. Either way, Jetten says he wants to make sure that by 2030 it will be possible to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 55%.

4. Why was it not decided to get more gas from Groningen?

With a looming gas crisis, there is also a call to get more gas from Groningen again. The firm really sticks to it: Groningen is only a “very last resort”.

The government does not consider further gas extraction in the interest of the safety of the people of Groningen and to restore confidence in the government to be an option. This gas year (which runs until October) 4.5 billion cubic meters will be extracted. The coming gas year will be a tipping point: then the Groningen field will be on the back burner. This means you don’t earn more than you need to keep the slots open.

Due to current developments, the firm has decided to put all eleven wells on the back burner instead of just a few. They will still close permanently in 2023 or 2024.

This means that production can be increased again until then. But what do you need for that?

The limit set by the government for this is security. “Gas extraction in Groningen cannot be safe. Only in the event of such a major gas shortage, which threatens the safety of more people, will the use of the Groningen field be discussed”, said State Secretary Hans Vijlbrief (Mines).

This is the case, for example, if there is no longer enough gas to heat hospitals, to cook or to produce diesel (crucial for certain industries). The cabinet will then weigh these dangers against the dangers to the people of Groningen. “Only then,” Vijlbrief stressed.

5. Are there no other solutions?

Burning additional coal is something “we absolutely wouldn’t start in less exceptional times,” Jetten said Monday. But aren’t there other ways to reduce dependence on Russian gas? Many readers have asked about the possibility of building nuclear power plants or producing more solar and wind power.

The problem is that such developments take years. The cabinet is preparing the construction of two new nuclear power plants, but it is expected that it will take at least ten years before they provide electricity. The accelerated installation of solar and wind farms also takes time, and it is also difficult to find space for them on the electricity grid.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin could cause big problems next winter by turning off the gas tap. “The risk of doing nothing has become too great,” concluded Jetten.

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