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1.Serbia’s lignite reserves and share in power generation

Kolubara coal mining and power generation region is chosen as the Target Region for the TRACER project as the reference case for Serbia. The coal reserves there amount to 2.2 billion tonnes of lignite with an annual production of about 30 million tones, which is almost 75% of the total coal production in the country. The coal is mined there from the end of 19th century, but the turning point in production came in the middle of 20th century with the opening of the first open pit, which started mass surface mining of lignite. Today, Kolubara mining basin is the country’s largest coal supplier for state owned Electric Power Industry of Serbia (EPS). EPS generates about 20 billion kWh of electricity per year in four thermal power plants (14 generating units) of the total installed capacity of 3.4 GWe, all based on the lignite from Kolubara mining basin. As some of the existing old generating units are planned to be shut down soon, a thorough refurbishment and life extension of other units is in progress. These units are being equipped with new environmental protection facilities to satisfy the EU emission standards. A new capacity is envisaged to be constructed at the mine mouth and based on modern technology with high efficiency.

The lignite from Kolubara basin is primarily (above 95% in 2017) used for electricity generation, ensuring a secure supply of more than a half (52%) of the total electricity generated in the country, and a small amount of lignite is dried and sold to the industrial and district heating consumers in the adjacent cities. While the district heating system of the capital city of Belgrade is based on local natural gas fired heat-only plants, a several decades old project is currently under development to ensure 600-800 MWt base-load heat from the reconstructed multiunit power plant located nearby, that burns lignite from the Kolubara mining basin. When in operation, it will not only mean much less waste heat discharge to the already overheated Sava river, but also a reduced import dependence on the natural gas, as well as an increase in the security of the heat supply to the consumers in the Capital city.

2.Geographical and population characteristics of the Kolubara Region

The Kolubara mining basin is located in the central – west part of Serbia, south from the Sava River and south-west of Belgrade city center. It spans over parts of two NUTS2 statistical regions – “Belgrade” [RS 11] region (3,234 km2 of surface area and a population of 1,687,132) and “Sumadija and Western Serbia” [RS 21] region (26,493 km2 of surface area and a population of 1,941,130). The most of mining area and all of power generation is located within the Belgrade region, and the rest of surface mining (with projected extension to the west in the future) is within the Sumadija and Western Serbia region. The activities are located within five municipalities (Lazarevac, Ub, Lajkovac, Obrenovac and Arandjelovac) with the total area of 1813 km2 and total population of 221,947 inhabitants.

The mining area is surrounded by Koceljeva town on the west, Rudovci on the east, Stepojevac on the north and Lajkovac on the south, with the east-west axis 55 km long and the north-south axis 15 km long. Within these boundaries, coal excavation area covers about 130 km2 with 52 km2 activated so far. Out of total 21 identified mining fields in the Kolubara mining basin, currently active are the following four: Field “B”, Field “D”, Field “G” and “Tamnava West”. The total area currently taken by mining is 37.4 km2, of which Field “D“22.00 km2, Field “B“ 4.20 km2, Field “G“: 0.51 km2, and  “Tamnava West” 10.70 km2.

3.Economic activities and employment

Apart of the above described mining and power generation activities in the Belgrade [RS11] and Sumadija and Western Serbia [RS 21] regions, economic activities and employment differ remarkably. While the capital city of Belgrade (ten urban municipalities) in the [RS11] region hosts the state administration, health care, education, banking, trade, tourism, civil services, construction, foreign representative offices and a diversity of other activities, with less employees in the dominantly rural area (seven municipalities) in agriculture, forestry and other local businesses, the situation is opposite in the in [RS 21] region (particularly so when/if the industrial activities cease), except to some extent for the administrative centers of its eight constitutve districts: Kragujevac (Sumadija), Sabac (Macva), Valjevo (Kolubara), Cacak (Moravica), Uzice (Zlatibor), Kraljevo (Raska), Krusevac (Rasina) and Jagodina (Pomoravlje). To perform activities on mining and power generation in the Kolubara target region employed are 11,907 people in open cast mining and supporting services, and 2,039 in power generation, including 415 in railway transportation of coal, (2018 data). It is worth noting that EPS (Electric Power Industry of Serbia) is the largest employer in the country (employs about 36,500 people), of which the mining basin (MB) Kolubara is the largest single branch with the highest number of employees within EPS.

4.Stakeholders interested for the transition of the MB Kolubara to a post-lignite era

With more than a half of electricity produced by burning the lignite mined in the MB Kolubara, the primary interest for the transition to a post-lignite era is with the state authorities, represented by the Ministry of mining and energy, Ministry of economy, Ministry for environmental protection, as well as with the state owned Electric Power Industry of Serbia (EPS). The strategic energy development framework, mainly adjusted to the Serbia’s obligations under the Energy Community Treaty, includes the Action plan for renewable energy sources (RES) that was set out for the period by 2020 as the national priority, and extended further by the Program of implementation of the Energy sector development strategy by the year 2030. As this Strategy rests mainly on the indigenous lignite and RES, primarily hydro and wind, the post-lignite era is very critical not only from the point of view of the target region where these RES are scarce, but for the country as a whole. This makes interest of the state authorities and governmental agencies in ensuring a safe electricity supply for the post-lignite era a top-level priority.

The same applies to the EPS corporation which has not made yet its long-term plans regarding the post-lignite era. In the long-term planning of EPS, it is foreseen to continue construction of the new lignite power plant Kolubara B with 1 or 2 units of 300 MW rated capacity, thus completing the generation fleet aimed to operate until the lignite resources in the MB Kolubara would last. However, as three quarters of electricity in Serbia is currently lignite based, the long-term future of EPS is highly uncertain. This is further stressed by the facts that the proposed Law on fighting the climate change entered parliamentary procedure for adoption, while the Ministry of environmental protection is ending up the proposal of the low carbon strategy with transition away from coal in energy sector in its focus.

Local authorities are in the forefront of interest for the post-mining era, particularly in the directly affected municipalities (Lazarevac, Ub, Lajkovac, Obrenovac and Arandjelovac). The City of Belgrade is interested in a secure supply of base load heat to supplement the imported natural gas. On the other hand, it is expected that interest in post-lignite era will arise of the natural gas suppliers. High interest is expected from many other actors, particularly from the current and potential future investors in the field of renewable energy and environmental protection facilities.

A very important stakeholder group is constituted by the unemployed former miners, who are directly interested in the coal transition process, and a special concern is to ensure that their rights are respected in a transition process, including any compensation measures. Regional and local public administration authorities are also interested in terms of economic and social development in a smart and environmental friendly manner. As the Kolubara mining and power generation region is one of the most polluted regions in Serbia, in spite of the enormous environmental improvement, there are still various environmental consequences that continuously attract interest of NGOs and various environmentalists’ groups.