The government of the Balearic Islands has passed a ground-breaking climate law that will see Mallorca’s last ageing coal power station closed by 2025.

The deal has been hailed as a “template” for the rest of Europe, as no jobs will be lost at the Alcudia power plant.

Talks between the local government and the company that owns the plant agreed that half of the plant would close by 2020 with the remaining units reducing their operation before finally being taken offline no more than five years later.

The agreement also has the support of the current Spanish government and local, national and international environmental lawyers and campaigners.

The Alcudia coal plant in northern Mallorca, seen across the harbour of its namesake town. Photo: Greg McNevin / Europe Beyond Coal

The Spanish legal NGO the International Institute of Law and Environment (IIDMA) has been working since 2015 to push Spain towards a coal exit by 2025.

Alcudia’s closure is being held up as an example to other regions facing up to the need for Europe to quickly exit coal-fired electricity generation.

Carlota Ruiz-Bautista, a lawyer at IIDMA said:

“This is a major step towards making Spain coal free in the shortest possible time. We hope this agreement will serve as an example for other companies”

A just transition

Ruiz-Bautista stressed the need for coal plant closure plans to always come with measures that ensure a ‘just transition’ for workers.

A ‘just transition’ is a concept developed by trade unions to describe a shift to a low carbon economy that is not only sustainable but also fair on those who stand to lose out.

The Alcudia plant is owned by Spanish energy company Endesa, which has agreed that all affected employees will be offered positions in other parts of the company.

Endesa is the daughter company of Italian firm Enel, which is committed to exiting coal in Italy by 2025.

Climate experts agree that developed countries will need to exit coal-fired electricity generation by 2030 in order to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The European Union has launched the Coal Regions in Transition Platform to bring together people and organisations affected by Europe’s transition away from coal. The Platform aims to support successful economic transitions and has pilot projects in Poland, Greece and Slovakia.

Toxic fumes

The Alcudia power plant in the north of Mallorca was built in 1976. Alongside its enormous climate impact, the plant’s operation has long affected local people and wildlife.

Located a few kilometres from the coast and with no coal mines located on the island, coal is shipped in from the other side of the world and loaded on to trucks to be brought to the plant.

Coal dust coats the area surrounding the road near the Alcudia coal plant. The plant is dependent on coal imports that are then trucked to it from the nearby port. Photo: Greg McNevin / Europe Beyond Coal

For people living or working along the 9km route from the harbour, this has meant giant lorries passing every few minutes, blowing toxic fumes and coal dust into the air.

Josep Vich is a lawyer who grew up in the area. He has campaigned for the plant’s closure:

Josep Vich grew up in Alcudia and has suffered lifelong sinus and asthma problems related to air pollution from the Alcudia coal plant and dust from the coal that feeds it. Photo: Greg McNevin / Europe Beyond Coal

“Even when I was a child, I remember people repeatedly complained that when someone sneezed on a white surface, a black matter came out directly on that paper. This was all because of the coal dust that we were inhaling.”

The plant has also had a devastating affect on local wildlife.

Satellite images show the impact that highly-salted water from the plant’s cooling towers has had on a neighbouring nature reserve.

Toni Muñoz has been working to protect the environment surrounding the Alcudia coal plant, which discharges huge quantities of concentrated salty water into the neighbouring wetlands. Photo: Greg McNevin / Europe Beyond Coal

Toni Muñoz is Head of Biodiversity at the local conservation group GOB, which has been calling for the plant’s closure for years because of its impact on neighbouring S´Albufera nature reserve. Last year he told META:

“With the closure of the plant, the natural park of S´Albufera will – without a doubt – improve environmentally.”

Sandy Hemingway was a founder of the local Friends of the Earth group in Mallorca and has volunteered and campaigned to protect the island’s environment for almost 25 years.

In an interview last year Hemingway said the enormous potential for clean energy generation from the island’s “hours and hours of sunshine” meant:

Sandy Hemingway, a founder and volunteer with Friends of the Earth Mallorca, has spent decades campaigning for a clean energy transition for the islands. Photo: Greg McNevin / Europe Beyond Coal

“It is absurd to ship coal from all over the world to burn in Mallorca when we could be producing energy with zero emissions and zero health problems.”

This week Vich, Muñoz and Hemmingway will be celebrating along with all those who have worked hard to prepare Mallorca for a future free from the dependence on imported coal.

A lesson for Germany?

The agreement in Mallorca comes just weeks after a deal was reached in Germany to close all of its coal and lignite-fired power plants.

The German government must now decide how to put the conclusions of its coal exit commission into practice.

Last summer Berlin missed its own deadline for transferring EU rules on pollution from coal plants into their national legislation.

Health and environmental experts argue that setting tighter restrictions on toxic air pollution is essential to protect the public. For the oldest, most polluting plants the cost of cutting pollution are often too high, which forces the dirtiest plants to close.

The Alcudia plant appears to have fallen victim to these European limits, which mean that the part of the plant set to stay open beyond 2020 will only be allowed to operate for a limited number of hours per year.

Christian Schaible, Industrial Production Policy Manager at the EEB said:

“The plant is unable to meet the EU’s latest environmental performance requirements. The investment needed to cut air pollution is just too great that, aside from the climate or environmental arguments, it simply doesn’t make economic sense to invest in this plant.”

The same argument is also likely to apply to a host of the most-polluting lignite coal plants in Germany, which Schaible says should also face reduced operation or retirement.

Ultimately, Schaible says, the Mallorcan coal exit is part of a bigger picture of a transformation in the way we produce energy in Europe:

“The opening of a new interconnector to bring electricity from the Spanish mainland and the abundant potential for local renewable generation point to the future of clean energy all over Europe, which will either be produced locally, or brought in from wind farms where additional capacity is available.”