Europe is becoming a coal sink, and, ironically, much of the blame for its increasing reliance on the dirty energy source can be attributed to its green policies. Now, in a move emblematic of the complex interconnectivity of the global energy market, Europe’s green policies and the American shale boom are spurring a new growth of Europe’s dirtiest variety of coal.It’s like this: Europe, in its quest to be a global green energy leader, has heavily subsidized and invested in renewable technologies like solar and wind energy. These sources, low-emitting as they may be, come at a substantial premium compared to traditional fossil fuels, and consumers are bearing the costs in the form of higher electricity prices. Meanwhile, in the United States, fracking and horizontal well drilling has set off a shale boom. America’s new glut of shale gas has substantially weakened our appetite for coal—abundant natural gas is pricing out much of our coal—so we’ve started exporting the combustible rock to Europe in record quantities.But ramping up imports of American coal isn’t enough for European industries and households increasingly desperate for cheap energy. In an attempt to stay globally competitive, Europe is now looking to its dirtiest domestic fossil fuel as a solution. Bloomberg reports:
Across the continent’s mining belt, from Germany to Poland and the Czech Republic, utilities such as Vattenfall AB, CEZ AS and PGE SA are expanding open-pit mines that produce lignite. The moist, brown form of the fossil fuel packs less energy and more carbon than more frequently burned hard coal.The projects go against the grain of European Union rules limiting emissions and pushing cleaner energy. Alarmed at power prices about double U.S. levels, policy makers are allowing the expansion of coal mines that were scaled back in the past two decades, stirring a backlash in the targeted communities.
Most European mining or drilling operations will run in to more local resistance than similar projects in America, thanks to disparities in population density. But the biggest tragedy here is that Europe’s unwillingness to embrace shale gas—of which the continent certainly has plenty—means that it’s now extracting a much dirtier energy source to try and keep prices down.