Coal: crisis intervention, not a long-term option

6/22/2022Vienna

VERBUND CEO Michael Strugl emphasises that coal will not experience a renaissance as a source of energy in Austria

The VERBUND location Mellach is already an important part of supply security and the “fire brigade” for grid stability. VERBUND was required by the federal government to make the use of coal possible again as an alternative to gas during supply bottlenecks or in the case of a total supply failure. VERBUND Chairman of the Executive Board Michael Strugl: “We see this requirement as a contribution to saving gas in electricity generation. The temporary use of coal is an emergency solution in case sufficient gas is unavailable. We also believe that a legal basis similar to the strategic gas reserve is also required in this case. Our priority continues to be the expansion of renewable generation – this is the only way that can lead us away from dependencies in the medium term and towards a renewable energy future. Coal will not experience a renaissance with us.” 

In line with the strategic decision to focus on renewable energies, VERBUND ceased coal-fired operations at the Mellach district heating power plant in Styria in March 2020. The district heating power plant was then used occasionally to support the grid in gas mode, before being temporarily shut down in 2021. 

The emergency measure for using the district heating power plant in coal mode is currently being intensively tested by VERBUND with the goal of being able to present an implementation plan: “We are checking the required technical equipment and maintenance, the procurement of coal as a fuel on the international market, the transport capacities available for delivering the coal to Mellach and searching for suitable specialists to operate a coal-fired power plant. At the same time, checks are being made as to which approval procedures are required in order to temporarily reverse the actually completed exit from coal,” Michael Strugl describes the current status of implementation. 

Relying on coal again in Mellach is a provision put in place by the federal government to cover emergency situations. Federal Minister Leonore Gewessler has therefore already announced that the federal government will utilise means from the national budget to cover the costs incurred. 

“The technical retooling of the district heating power plant and the necessary maintenance work can be technically implemented within a manageable timeframe. However, the search for personnel and above all the procurement of coal pose special challenges: having stopped coal-fired operations over two years ago, we no longer have any specifically trained personnel. And above all, we have to purchase coal on the global market and secure the transport capacities to deliver it. Larger quantities of coal are currently hard to come by on the market. From today’s perspective, it will be challenging to obtain coal for the coming heating period.

“Our goal continues to be the accelerated expansion of generation, electricity grids and storage facilities. That is the focus of our strategy for Austria and for Europe,” concludes Michael Strugl.


Ingun Metelko Ingun Metelko

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