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‘Repeat offenders’: These are the top 10 most polluting power plants in Europe

Clouds of smoke over Europe's largest brown coal power plant in Belchatow, central Poland.
Clouds of smoke over Europe's largest brown coal power plant in Belchatow, central Poland. Copyright AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski
Copyright AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski
By Lottie Limb
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Two countries dominate Europe’s coal emissions. Though falling, coal made up over 60% of the bloc's power sector pollution last year.

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Europe’s top 10 carbon emitters last year were all coal power plants, according to new analysis from energy think tank Ember.

These sites - almost exclusively in Poland and Germany - were responsible for a quarter of all emissions from the power sector in 2022.

Together, they pumped out 13 per cent of the EU’s total emissions, as recorded in the EU’s Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) - a ‘cap and trade’ scheme which takes stock of greenhouse gas pollution.

Coal plants are the repeat offenders of the EU’s dirty list,” says Ember’s analyst Harriet Fox.

“The faster Europe can get off coal power the better.”

Where are Europe’s most polluting power plants?

Seven of the coal plants have been among the top 10 highest emitting power stations every year for the last decade, with PGE’s Bełchatów in Poland topping the list since the EU-ETS scheme began in 2005.

RWE’s Neurath coal plant in Germany is in second place, followed by the Boxberg plant - also based in Germany but run by Czech Republic based company EPH.

Ember
Germany and Poland are behind two-thirds of coal power emissions.Ember

These three utilities dominated power sector emissions for the sixth consecutive year, Ember’s report shows.

RWE, PGE and EPH each emitted almost as much CO2 equivalents (CO2e) as Italy’s entire power sector in 2022. Together, they accounted for 30 per cent of the EU’s power sector emissions, with lignite plants responsible for the majority of their contribution.

To pull together its ‘dirty list’, Ember looked at 2022 emissions recorded in the EU-ETS, which covers more than 10,000 installations across sectors including aviation, power and industry.

Ember
Three utilities dominated power sector emissions for the sixth consecutive year: RWE, PGE and EPH.Ember

Last year, the power sector accounted for 739 million tonnes of (CO2e) - around half of total EU-ETS emissions.

Coal contributed more than 60 per cent of power sector emissions, of which Germany and Poland were responsible for two-thirds.

Bulgaria is also in the top 10 list of worst ‘offenders’ - with its Maritsa East 2 lignite plant, run by BEH, in 10th position.

Coal emissions are now falling across Europe

While coal still dominates the EU’s emissions, the long-term decline of coal power is clear. Coal emissions in 2022 were 40 per cent lower than a decade ago.

Despite concerns about Europe returning to coal power during the global gas crisis, the increases were limited. Coal power emissions rose six per cent compared to 2021, but remained below 2019 levels.

The two biggest EU-ETS coal power emitters, Germany and Poland, have both seen a decline in its use.

Ember
Lignite plants are responsible for the majority of the EU's power sector emissions.Ember

Germany is moving more quickly, however. It has achieved a 37 per cent reduction in coal power emissions in the last decade and is now targeting a 2030 coal phase-out.

Poland, on the other hand, has yet to set a coal phase-out date and only achieved a 12 per cent reduction in the last decade.

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Poland will soon be left as the EU’s biggest emitter if it doesn’t change course.

“Poland will soon be left as the EU’s biggest emitter if it doesn’t change course,” adds Fox. “Germany is making strides to cut its coal dependency, but Poland has yet to begin.”

As a result, Poland has an increased share of EU-ETS coal power sector emissions in 2022 (28 per cent), up from 19 per cent a decade ago, while Germany’s share remained stable.

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