Bulgaria, 16.10.2023 - Greenpeace activists today painted the word ‘CRIME’ on a 50-metre high cooling tower at a power plant in Dimitrovgrad, Southeast Bulgaria, to protest its toxic impact on communities and the environment.
Activists from eight countries in Central and Eastern Europe are making their voice heard together as they protest for people’s right to clean air, a safe environment and a livable climate. They come from Bulgaria, Austria, Croatia, Czechia, Greece, Hungary, Poland and Romania.
The Maritsa 3 Power Plant resumed production in 2021 after three years on stand-by, as energy prices in Bulgaria rose, to profit from state-funded coal reserve subsidies. Now that the plant is running again, it's producing illegally high sulphur dioxide pollution, as well as particulate matter air pollution, which affects people’s health.
In operation since 1971, Maritsa 3 is one of Bulgaria’s oldest and most polluting coal-fired power plants. It is capable of producing only 1% of Bulgaria’s electricity, but at a significant health and environmental cost.
Southeast Bulgaria is the last region in the EU with a persistent problem of sulphur dioxide pollution due to the high number of coal-fired power plants. The European Court ruled against Bulgaria in 2022 for its continuous failure to resolve it. The pollutant causes a range of harmful effects on the lungs, including exacerbating asthma and reducing lung function. Last year Maritsa 3’s operation caused so much pollution that even the annual number of legally permitted breaches of daily and hourly limits was reached, forcing Maritsa 3 to shut down until the end of the year. It resumed operation in the beginning of 2023, with multiple documented cases of unfiltered emissions and elevated levels of sulphur dioxide since.
Desislava Mikova, Climate and Energy campaigner at Greenpeace Bulgaria, said: “This power plant violates local people’s right to breathe clean air. It simply cannot abide by the law. Greenpeace Bulgaria is calling for the plant’s permit to be revoked, and a plan for its closure drawn up, as part of a wider, gradual phase-out of all coal in Bulgaria by 2030 that includes concrete safety nets for affected workers. Right now, delaying the energy transition is merely lining the pockets of oligarchs. This is a fossil crime.”
The Maritsa 3 power plant, which is part of energy oligarch Hristo Kovacki’s coal empire, is also one of nine plants under investigation by the European Prosecutor's Office for carbon emissions fraud data. An analysis by the Environmental Association "For the Earth" estimates the damage from underreported quotas for these plants at 75 million euros. Maritsa 3 has a permit to burn biomass together with coal, and in the last two years nearly 45% of its fuel has been biomass, according to its public annual reports. This is a persistent breach of its permit, which only allows up to 20% biomass in the fuel mix. Since biomass is legally considered a zero-carbon-emission fuel, Maritsa 3 has been saving from carbon emissions it would have to pay to burn coal.
Desislava Mikova added: “Dimitrovgrad is one of the many places in Bulgaria where brave citizens fight to have clean air to breathe and a healthy environment to live in. Greenpeace is amplifying their voice and supporting them to expose the problem and hold the authorities accountable. It is time for Bulgaria to stop relying on ancient and poorly maintained coal plants for electricity production, and commit to energy transformation. The future of energy in Bulgaria is in a decentralised and renewable energy system, which can provide clean energy and a healthy environment to all.”
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