by Rosa Hergan
A local Just Transition Platform in Pljevlja is calling on the government to initiate a just transition process in their region, where the Pljevlja thermal power plant’s future is uncertain.
Nestled in the northern part of Montenegro near the borders with Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the town of Pljevlja is home to the country’s only 225MW thermal power plant. Pljevlja also has some of the dirtiest air in the country, choking its residents with high levels of particulate matter. As is usually the case, smog in the region is caused by the combustion of coal at the nearby power plant and the domestic use of coal and wood for household heating.
Irrespective of its impacts and a legal obligation to close down or modernise, the Pljevlja coal power plant, owned by the state owned power utility Elektroprivreda Crne Gore (EPCG), boasted that it had generated a record amount of electricity in 2020.
Under Energy Community rules, the plant had been allowed 20,000 operating hours between 2017 and 2023, after which it would have to fulfil more ambitious pollution control limits applied to new plants or close down. At the end of March, Montenegro confirmed to the Energy Community that the plant had used up all its permitted allowance by the autumn of 2020. That means, the plant should have shut down, either permanently or at least until pollution control equipment is fitted. However, the plant is still operating, and in April the Energy Community Secretariat opened an infringement procedure against Montenegro.
Just Transition initiative gets underway
In the meanwhile, in the town of Pljevlja, civil society organisations have started voicing their demands for a comprehensive and inclusive plan to transition away from coal. In 2019, Igor Golubović, the mayor of Pljevlja, set the wheel into motion and signed the Declaration of Mayors on Just Transition algonside 13 other mayors from the region. Unlike some of the political leaders on national level, they recognise the need to diversify the local economy, as the coal industry will be inevitably shutting down and leaving local communities without key resources.
Since 2019, residents, NGOs, media representatives, experts, and members of the local government have been participating in an open Just Transition Platform that debates ideas around the diversification of the local economy. Initiated by the non-governmental organization Eco-team, the overarching aim of this Platform is to introduce the concept of just transition into the legal and strategic framework of Montenegro, to start a dialogue among relevant institutions, and involve frontline communities in the transformation process.
Some efforts put forth by the Platform include a letter sent to the Ministry of Economy and the Municipality of Pljevlja in June 2020, urging them to speed up the redevelopment process of the local economy. Based on a 2020 analysis of potential economic diversification in Pljevlja commissioned by Eco-team, the Platform recommends establishing a state agency to oversee the implementation of just transition principles, stepping up local development in the construction sector, livestock and dairy production, leather and wool processing, and tourism.
According to Diana Milev Čavor, project manager at Eco-team, kicking off the strategic planning phase for a bottom-up just transition is now more pressing than ever, but central institutions need to jump on the wagon for it to be effective.
“We want to involve institutions at the national level in this process and help them understand the concept so that they can implement it in their strategies,” she told just-transition.info.
In the most recent meeting, at the end of March, the Just Transition Platform discussed the municipality’s benefits from joining the Initiative for Coal Regions in Transition in the Western Balkans and Ukraine.
The March meeting was for the first time attended by the executive director of the coal mine, representatives of the trade union and the director of the Pljevlja thermal power plant as well as representatives of the municipality of Pljevlja. Despite eyeballing a coal-exit only by 2050, they acknowledged the need for a planned transition in the country.
Eco-team is working on multiple fronts to introduce the just transition concept to local and central-level decision-makers and the broader public. It recently published animated videos and appears regularly on national TV to raise the issue of a just transition, while also planning to produce a best practice manual for a just transition for policy-makers at the local and central institutions.
At the same time, Eco-team is commissioning a cost-benefit analysis of modernising the Pljevlja power plant as well as a socio-economic analysis of the local coal economy that anticipates the social dimensions of continuing to operate the thermal power complex alongside the coal mines.
“The results of these cost-benefit analyses will be important since the Municipality of Pljevlja and EPCG one-sidedly emphasise the importance of preserving the coal sector due to the large number of employees, especially in the coal mine,” according to Čavor.
Photo by Flickr user Herbert Frank.