Questions rising over Turkey’s overemphasis on coal resources

Questions rising over Turkey’s overemphasis on coal resources

Turkey has developed a number of plans to diversify its energy resources over the last decade. These plans have accelerated since the jet crisis erupted with Russia, Turkey’s largest energy provider, last November. However, the overemphasis on coal resources in these plans has triggered key environmental questions and other concerns, mainly about labor safety in the mining sector. 

The government issued a notice to speed up local coal activities in late February. According to the Energy Ministry’s 2016 Budget Presentation, Turkey could save around $7.2 billion from its annual energy bill if its coal reserves are fully exploited. Coal reserves’ power generation capacity is planned to be increased from 43 billion kWh annually to 57 billion kWh by the end of 2016, according to the government’s plans. By 2023, Turkey wants to add 18.5 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired electricity generation capacity to its portfolio, increasing the use of local coal reserves as much as possible. 

Big “buts” start at this point. The post-2020 Paris Agreement, reached in December 2015, aimed to avert the most calamitous effects of climate change: Severe droughts, floods and storms, and rising seas that would engulf islands and coastal areas populated by hundreds of millions of people around the world. Scientists, business chiefs and analysts all warned at Davos in January that humanity must stop burning coal, oil and gas to power the global economy, or otherwise face an irreversible climate catastrophe. Coal-fired power plants are seen the biggest source of man-made CO2 emissions. Coal is the most unsustainable of fossil fuel resources, experts warn. 

Coal power plant capacity in Turkey is set to almost double over the next four years, adding significantly to already high health costs, according to a May 2015 report from the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). 

Why is Turkey trying to increase its coal-fired power generation, at a time when many countries have developed policies to gradually end its use? If the main reason is to increase the share of local resources in meeting the country’s skyrocketing electricity demand, shouldn’t we focus on renewables?

Yes, renewable energy technologies are very expensive to import for a country that has a current account deficit problem like Turkey. But the acquisition of such technologies may cost much less for Turkey if global subsidies are increased for renewables. Even tenders for the launch of big renewable power plants - for instance a wind farm on the northern Aegean coastline or a solar farm in Central Anatolia - could be held with the participation of local companies in the bidding consortiums. 

Another key question is about ensuring the safety of miners in Turkey. 2014 was a terrible year for mining disasters, with 301 coalminers losing their lives in the Aegean province of Manisa’s Soma district in May of that year - the biggest industrial accident in Turkey’s history. In October 2014, 18 more miners died in the Ermenek district of the Central Anatolian province of Karaman. The lawsuits for both the Soma and Ermenek mine disasters are still ongoing, but it is highly questionable whether the required standards are being ensured across the sector to prevent further deaths. 

Developing plans to decrease Turkey’s dependence on foreign energy resources has been positive. But much more effective and environmentally friendly solutions are urgently needed.