How China helped Montenegro town get clean air after 40 years of pollution
Aljosa Milenkovic in Montenegro
Montenegro faces the same coal dilemma as many countries around the world. For some, the fossil fuel is an environmental killer; for others, a reliable source of electricity and heating.
The country's only coal-burning thermal power plant, in the northern city of Pljevlja, is essential for Montenegro's energy stability: while the country generates much power from hydroelectricity, during the dry summer months Pljevlja provides up to 95 percent of the country's entire electricity needs.
Some have demanded the plant be closed, citing environmental concerns. However, local activists are against a shutdown, saying that almost 1,500 jobs in the Pljevlja coal mine and power plant are a lifeline for the community. They also emphasize that the power plant is not the sole perpetrator of air pollution.
"We started an initiative for a full ban on coal ownership and use for households and public institutions, like schools and hospitals," Milorad Mitrović, executive director of the eco NGO Breznica, tells CGTN. "Coal should be used for energy production only and nothing else."
The 40-year-old Soviet technology inside this power plant emits solid particles, called PM2.5 and PM10, which are among the top air polluters in Pljevlja. Gordana Đukanović, from Montenegro's Environmental Protection Agency, paints a grim picture of Pljevlja's pollution.
"The air quality during the winter months, meaning from October to the beginning of May, is very poor," she tells CGTN. "Almost every day there are concentrations above the limits of PM10 and PM2.5 particles. There are also times when sulfur-dioxide concentrations exceed the limits."
Enter a company called Dongfang. Since last year the Chinese company has engaged in a $90 million eco-reconstruction of the coal-burning power plant. It involves treating the exhaust fumes to remove the PM particles, sulfur and nitrous oxides from emissions - and when finished, it should dramatically change air quality in Pljevlja.
There will also be other benefits of retrofitting the plant, explains Nikola Rovčanin, director of the national energy company EPCG.
"Thermal power plant Pljevlja will be one of the most modern thermal energy installations in this region," he tells CGTN. "And the indirect benefit of this eco-reconstruction is the introduction of the central heating system, which will abolish the need for households to use coal for heating."
The residual ash will be used in the cement industry, with this byproduct reuse further increasing the plant's eco-friendliness. The new system is expected to become operational in 2025 – not only saving 1,500 jobs, but also gifting the community fresher air.