They thought it would take a few weeks in 2020, but only after thirteen months of negotiations could the closure of the Onyx coal-fired power station be announced on Tuesday. State Secretary Dilan Yesilgöz (Climate, VVD) is allocating a maximum of 212.5 million euros to dismantle the electricity producer on the Rotterdam Maasvlakte, she wrote to the House of Representatives.
The subsidized shutdown is in line with the aim of still complying with the Urgenda judgment, which stipulates that CO emissions2 must be at least a quarter lower than in 1990. Especially thanks to corona, that legal requirement may be narrowly met in 2020, but that will most likely not be possible this year.
Due to their high emissions, coal-fired power stations play an important role in climate policy. The Amsterdam Hemweg power station was already closed in 2019 and the end is also approaching for the remaining three power stations. By 2030, the law will ban the use of coal for power production. Another law stipulates that the power stations may only operate at 35 percent of their capacity until 2024.
The closure of the seven-year-old Onyx plant, which has been in the hands of the American investment group Riverstone since 2019, may be a fact within two months. The subsequent dismantling of the power station on the Maasvlakte may take a maximum of three years. If the fire is extinguished, this will save 3 million tons of emissions annually, which is almost 2 percent of the total Dutch emissions. That is not all climate gain, because to achieve the same electricity production with natural gas, the emissions are still 1.5 million tons.
In addition to Onyx, two more power stations, the RWE Eemshaven and Uniper on the Maasvlakte, are relatively new. The owners are already preparing for a legal battle to be compensated for the mandatory closure in 2030. The third power station, RWE’s Brabant Amer power station, is much older.
To qualify for the subsidy, owner Riverstone must come up with a thorough social plan for the employees, the state secretary writes. According to the trade union movement FNV, 140 people will be affected by the closure.
The question remains why the negotiations took so long. This is partly apparent from the letter to parliament. The delay was partly due to a major malfunction at the beginning of this year and after repairs, the ministry wanted to be sure that there was “a working plant again”. A technical bureau from London had to assess that question. And KPMG has “comprehensively assessed” the grant application to prevent overcompensation.
Central to the discussions was of course the size of the subsidy. As early as 2020, the then minister Eric Wiebes (Economic Affairs, VVD) allocated 238 million euros to shut down one of the three modern coal-fired power stations. Only the owners of Onyx gasped. The Americans are actually paid those 238 million, only that amount was lowered due to the lengthy negotiations: since January 2021, 2.2 million has been deducted every month. That is why, according to the State Secretary, the counter is now at a maximum of 212.5 million, because closure will take at least two months.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of December 1, 2021
Rotterdam central now really closed
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