20 November was the first day of electricity production without the burning of coal, after the Pego plant exhausted its stock, despite being licensed to operate until 30 November.

For the environmental group ZERO: “This is a historic date, in which the most polluting fuel in Portugal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change is no longer used, anticipating a goal that was initially set for 2030”.

For the environmentalists, it is essential to guarantee the inclusion of workers who have directly and indirectly been affected and to promote solutions that do not jeopardise the environmental gains achieved.

Ceasing to use coal in electricity production is a crucial element of decarbonisation, a topic that rose to prominence and caused controversy at the climate conference (COP26), with some countries refusing to end the use of this fuel.

The Pego coal plant, which was responsible for 4 percent of the country's emissions, was the installation with the second highest weight in terms of carbon dioxide emissions in Portugal in the last decade, after the Thermoelectric Power Plant in Sines, which was closed in January of this year.

In absolute terms, the average annual emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) by the Pego plant between 2008 and 2019 was 4.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

With the withdrawal of the two coal-fired power stations now completed, “Portugal should record a huge drop in carbon emissions, given that the use of combined cycle power stations powered by natural gas, a temporary path to a solution 100 percent based on renewable sources, is reflected in emissions of just over a third for each unit of electricity produced compared to coal,” notes ZERO.

Despite the depollution equipment installed, the Pego coal plant was also a significant source of emission of various pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particles and heavy metals, whose quantities released into the atmosphere in Portugal will see an important reduction.

Biomass burning

The end of the activity of this plant now raises the question of alternatives, with the use of biomass burning as one of the recommended solutions, but which ZERO warns is not “sustainable”.

“This is an inefficient and contradictory solution with the objectives of retaining carbon in the forest and in the soil and does not translate into a significant added value compared to other climate mitigation solutions”, they say.

The association defends that the concession of the connection point of the Pego Power Station should take into account only projects that result from the “use of truly renewable energy sources that in no way consider the possibility of using biomass, bearing in mind that this it is not, nor will it ever be in any way renewable”.

Environmentalists also warn of the scarcity of residual forest biomass in the country, given that within an intervention radius of 80 kilometres there are already countless biomass plants and forestry industries that compete for residual forest material.

Furthermore, the spirit of the European Commission's recent proposal of July 2021, which is part of the “Ready for 55” package, is that “as of December 31, 2026, (…) Member States will not support the production of electricity from forest biomass in exclusively electrical installations”.