Erdogan's Turkey embarks on massive 'dash for coal'

Power in paradise: the Catalgazi coal-fired power plant on turkey's Black Sea coast.

Power in paradise: the Catalgazi coal-fired power plant on Turkey's Black Sea coast.

Ignoring its significant solar and wind power potential, Turkey is planning a massive 'dash for coal' with over 37,000 MW of new coal fired power stations.

This is the key finding from a Bankwatch and Greenpeace Mediterranean fact finding mission to the Turkish Black Sea Coast, which identified between 50 and 86 new coal plants are planned to be built in Turkey over the next few years.

This would rank Turkey first among OECD countries investing in new installed coal capacity, and fourth globally, behind only China, India and Russia.

As a member of the G20, Turkey committed earlier this year to "phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies". Yet the Turkish government has granted coal developers corporation tax allowances, exemptions from customs duties and VAT, and support for employer's contributions to insurance premiums. Power plants using domestic coal can benefit from regional development aid, regardless of the actual location of power plants. The government also helps with allocating state-owned land near domestic lignite production sites.

The 'dash for coal' plan puts Turkey - and its combative Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - on a collision course with the EU. As a prospective EU member, Turkey needs to take into account EU climate and renewable energy commitments when planning long-life energy infrastructure such as coal power plants.

The EU Council has endorsed the objective of reducing Europe's greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% compared to 1990 levels as part of efforts by developed countries to reduce their emissions. The European Commission has published a roadmap for building the low-carbon European economy required to achieve these goals.

European countries, most notably Germany, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, are increasingly turning to renewable energy sources like solar, wind and biomass to meet their future energy needs. As the price of solar PV in particular falls to previously undreamt-of levels, solar kilowatt-hours is sunny locations can produce kilowatt hours at a price similar to that of unsubsidised new coal-fired power plants, without even taking environmental costs into account.

As the price of solar panel continues to decline, solar is certain to be cheaper long before Turkey's planned fossil energy programme is completed. However support proposed for renewable energy in Turkey is minute compared to the vast support package for coal. The planned Feed in Tariffs for solar and other renewable technologies are much lower than those in EU countries and are planned to last for only 10 years, compared to the EU's typical 15-20 years.

13 of Turkey's new plants are supposed to be built in the Western Black Sea region, within 80 kilometres of the coast. In Amasra, a small touristic port on the coast, two new plants totalling 2,640 MW have been planned for construction, despite opposition from locals who argue these big polluting structures would threaten the tourism potential of this historical region, which also hosts the most intact examples of Black Sea humid karst forest ecosystems.

In nearby Catalagzi, 1,320 MW are scheduled to be added to the existing 1,690 MW of coal capacity. Already today, existing plants in Catalagzi are choking inhabitants with radioactive ash and heavy metals.

Preparation for the construction of new plants is taking place without properly following legal requirements, raising doubts over whether future plants would function with less pollution and negative social impacts than currently operating ones. This is described in detail in the Bankwatch / Greenpeace report Black clouds looming - how Turkey's coal spree is threatening local economies on the Black Sea

The 'dash for coal' appears to be part of Erdogan's deliberate policy to prioritise development over environment and national heritage; to turn a tin ear to all who disagree; and to deploy state violence against protestors. This policy came to the world's attention over his plan to build a shopping complex on the Taksim Gezi Gardens in downtown Istanbul, which led to huge protests in summer 2013 which were repressed with astonishing brutality. More recently tempers have flared over the construction of a road passing through the Middle East Technical University (ODTU) campus and its forest. In September Erdogan told protestors to "go and live in forests", and ordered police to attack them with pepper gas and water cannon.

Other mega-projects projects supported by Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) include a huge new airport near Istanbul; a large shipping canal connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara; a third bridge across the Bosphorus bridge; a new Istanbul financial center; and a huge mosque built in a public park on a hill towering above Istanbul hill.

In order to speed up the development of Turkey's 'dash for coal' the Turkish government recently adopted a new Electricity Market Law giving exemption to all facilities in which the state is an owner or has a participation from all national environment legislation until the end 2018, with the possibility of extending the exemption for three more years through a Council of Ministers decision.

To date, no cumulative impact assessment has been conducted for the 13 new plants planned to be built in the Western Black Sea Coast region. Alternatives to coal in a country with one of the largest solar potentials in Europe have not been properly discussed, and the public consultation processes are deficient.

"In order to understand the interest for solar in Turkey, just think that 1.7 GW of unlicensed, self-consumption projects are forecasted for installation until 2018", said Gulcin Sahin from Greenpeace Mediterranean said. "Turkish authorities would be better advised to support this potentially booming sector rather than choking the population with more than 50 new coal plants."

"In a resolution passed following the Gezi protests, the European Parliament called on national authorities in Turkey to launch public consultations for all development plans in the country and to conduct environmental impact assessments for all projects," explains Bankwatch's Daniel Popov, one of the authors of the fact finding mission report.

"These planned coal units will have an enormous climate, environmental and social impact, not only on Turkish people but also on inhabitants of neighboring countries," adds Popov. "The EU must closely monitor these projects and make sure they meet requirements related to environmental standards and public participation."

The report also questions the involvement of International Financial Institutions (IFIs) in the 'dash for coal' - including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, all of which have supported Turkish energy developments. Since 2009 the EIB alone has supported the Turkish financial sector with more than EUR 4 billion in credit lines, or roughly 44 percent of the bank's portfolio in the country. However these loans are entirely opaque in terms of where the money is actually going.

"Determining who are the final beneficiaries of EIB and EBRD investments in Turkey's financial sector is no easy task", states the report. "Such information is not publicly available, as in every country where these development banks do business. At the same time, both banks' assessment of their main partner banks is not available, in terms of their standards and capacity to deliver on European objectives.

"Both the EBRD and the EIB should be transparent about whether their loans to these financial intermediaries is supporting the construction of new coal plants in Turkey."

Read the Bankwatch / Greenpeace report on coal in Turkey: Black clouds looming - how Turkey's coal spree is threatening local economies on the Black Sea


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