End of the road for super-polluting Greek lignite power plant

The Green Tank, an Athens-based environmental think tank and ClientEarth, an organization of environment lawyers, have announced today their decision to withdraw their challenge against the Greek government’s decision to illegally extend the lifetime of one of its most polluting plants, the lignite-fired Thermal Power Station (TPS) Amyntaio.

The organisations’ decision was taken immediately following the publication of the amended unified production license of the Greek Public Power Corporation’s (PPC) thermal units, which no longer includes Amyntaio. The amendment means that Amyntaio has been officially retired from Greece’s energy system.

Amyntaio was one of the EU’s biggest emitters of sulfur dioxide (SO2) – a harmful gas with known negative impacts on people’s health. Between 2012-2019, Amyntaio emitted on average 6.3 times the legal limit for SO2 for large power plants.

The official retirement of Amyntaio marks the end of a long journey full of derogation attempts, tailor-made arrangements, breaches of EU law, exceedances of emission limits, and contempt for public health and the environment. We are withdrawing our appeal today, hoping that the handling of the Greek state in this case will serve as a prime example of what to avoid in the future“, said Nikos Mantzaris, senior policy analyst and co-founder of The Green Tank.

In 2019, The Green Tank and ClientEarth appealed the Greek government’s decision to illegally increase the number of hours Amyntaio could operate without meeting stricter emission limits. Amyntaio had already been limited to operate to 17,500 hours over the period 2016-2023 under a scheme known as a ‘limited lifetime derogation’.

However, by November 2018, the plant had already exhausted its hours and would have had to power down.

As of 2016, Greece repeatedly asked the European Commission if it could extend the hours to nearly double what had been approved. The Commission consistently objected, as the plant was not eligible for the extension under EU environmental law.

Τhe Greek government ignored the European Commission’s decision, illegally granting the much-coveted extension to Amyntaio at the end of 2018 allowing it to operate up to 32,000 hours.

This unilateral action was essentially an “à la carte” interpretation of EU legislation, which also extended the blatant disrespect for public health and the environment resulting from the continued operation of a plant which emitted many times above the legal limits.

Despite The Green Tank and ClientEarth’s appeal requesting the immediate closure of Amyntaio, the Ministry of Environment and Energy insisted on including the plant in the 32,000 hours derogation without any obligation for an environmental upgrade.

This led the two organizations to submit an action for annulment to the Greek Council of State later the same year, which also coincided with the European Commission initiating legal action against Greece for allowing Amyntaio and Kardia to derogate from EU law.

Environmental legislation should not be viewed as an obstacle. The final retirement of Amyntaio is an important victory for people and the environment. The Greek government must now turn its attention and resources to support workers and local communities in Greece’s lignite regions to ensure a transition to a post-lignite era that’s fair and sustainable for all“, said Eleni Diamantopoulou, energy lawyer at ClientEarth.