Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

Europe's Coal Plants Will Bleed More Cash Through Next Decade

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  • Germany could save $14 billion by phasing out coal power
  • Carbon Tracker says 97% of plants will have negative cashflow

Almost all coal plants in the European Union will be outspending their income by the end of the next decade, relying on subsidies to stay open to back up wind and solar generation.

About 54 percent of the region’s plants already fail to break even, according to a report by London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative published Friday. The facilities are kept online by government handouts running into millions of euros for some stations just to be available in case they are needed to meet spikes in demand.

As nations from the U.K. to Austria plan to exit the dirtiest power plant fuel and investors such as Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest, pull money out of coal-hungry utilities, the fuel’s future has never looked so bleak. Power producers from Britain’s Drax Group Plc to Steag GmbH and Uniper SE in Germany are already closing or converting stations away from coal at a record pace. 

By 2030, 97 percent of plants will have negative cash flow as the European Commission plans to end so-called capacity payments for coal by the middle of the next decade and battery storage technology improves to provide more of the power needed at peak times, according to Carbon Tracker.

“Coal is going to be put into a death spiral and there’s not much that asset owners can do about that other than to lobby and hope that the state will bail them out,” Matthew Gray, senior analyst at Carbon Tracker in London, said by phone.

For more on how fast Europe’s coal plants are disappearing, click here

Margins at plants will be further squeezed as the cost of European carbon allowances, permits needed to emit the greenhouse gas, is predicted to triple to 31 euros ($37) a ton by 2030, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

But utilities expect to operate at least some of their plants beyond 2030, according to the report. Based on company filings and member state phase-out policies, only 27 percent of operating coal units in the EU are planning to close before 2030 as they await clarity on how much capacity is needed for security of supply, Carbon Tracker said.

In Germany, where acting Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure to reduce pollution from the energy industry, phasing out coal would stem losses of 12 billion euros for utilities, according to the analysis. Just RWE AG, which owns about half the nation’s lignite capacity, could avoid losing 5.3 billion euros by retiring its coal units instead of upgrading them to meet environmental standards, Carbon Tracker said.

European Union member states could avoid wasting 22 billion euros on unprofitable power plants by phasing out coal by 2030, according to the report.

— With assistance by Mathew Carr

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