The EU could be about to give Europe’s dirtiest fuel a lifeline by allowing billions of euros worth of government payments to highly-polluting coal-fired power plants.

Advocates of clean energy have reacted with surprise and anger at a proposal from Estonia, which is the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency.

Europe Beyond Coal campaign director Kathrin Gutmann said:

“The Estonian EU Presidency is attempting to significantly water down rules that are essential to an orderly transition away from coal power. If it succeeds it will not only be condemning citizens across Europe to more health impacts from air pollution, it will be throwing billions of taxpayer euros down the drain.”

Estonian diplomats have proposed allowing existing coal plants access to schemes that offer guaranteed payments for supplying electricity to national grids.

Governments claim so-called ‘capacity mechanisms’ ensure there is always sufficient energy available, but the schemes often function as a backdoor subsidy to some of Europe’s most harmful plants.

Research by London-based climate analysts at Sandbag shows coal plants in the UK alone will receive £173m through this subsidy next year. Similar stories exist all over Europe.

Capacity payments allow otherwise unprofitable coal plants to remain open.

Yet pollution from coal plants in Europe is seriously harmful to human health and a major contributor the climate-destroying carbon emissions.

In fact, developed countries will need to close all their coal plants by 2030 at the very latest, in order to meet commitments made in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Recognising the problem, the European Commission proposed blocking coal plants from accessing capacity mechanisms by imposing a restriction on the amount of carbon that could be emitted per unit of electricity generated by plants eligible to receive payments.

A broad coalition of NGOs and energy companies welcomed this proposed requirement, which was part of the the EU’s ‘Clean Energy for All Europeans‘ package, published at the end of 2016.

However the proposal was unpopular with some coal-addicted Member States and Estonia may have hoped they could quietly axe the requirement in order to make progress in negotiations.

That choice may now have backfired with campaigners pointing out how cutting the proposal seems more like the kind of anti-history support for coal that Donald Trump would suggest.

Joanna Flisowska, Coal Policy Coordinator at CAN-Europe, called on EU countries that have made public commitments to phase out coal and joined the international ‘Powering Past Coal’ alliance to stand up and defend the original proposal.

She said such countries:

“…must make it clear that supporting coal is not compatible with the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change”

Representatives from all 28 EU Member States will meet on Wednesday 6 December to discuss the proposals before European energy ministers gather on 18 December to take a final position.

You can find more information about the Europe Beyond Coal campaign at www.beyond-coal.eu