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Cleaning up Kosovo's dangerous 'black spot'

February 8, 2010


For over 40 years, Kosovo has suffered long-term environmental effects of ash buildup from coal-burning power plants in nearby villages. A Clean Up and Land Reclamation Project, being funded by a $10.5 million grant from the World Bank and a €3 million donation from the Dutch Government, is being implemented to clean up the area and rehabilitate land throughout the country.

Samir Mexhuani, 62, will soon be able to enjoy his coffee outside in his yard in Dardhishte - a village near Kosovo's capital Pristina- and like many in this area will be able to breathe cleaner air when he does so.

The clean-up of the ash hills near his home- the result of almost 40 years of careless disposal of ash created by burning coal at the nearby power plants- has begun by Kosovo's authorities with the support of the World Bank.

Living close to both the ash dump and the old power plant, Mexhuani says that the environmentally cleaner power station will make his village happy. "In the summer, I can't even drink coffee outside like normal people, because of all of the dust and pollution," Mexhuani said.

A heavy excavator is filling up jumbo trucks with ash that is being driven and offloaded to fill up other parts of the ash dump to prepare it for clean-up. Bulldozers are leveling the ground covered by ash and the overburdened dumps to stabilize these areas and make it possible for plants to grow here again.

This is one of the three components of the Clean Up and Land Reclamation Project, which is funded by a US$10.5 million grant from the World Bank and a Euro 3-million donation from the Dutch Government.

The second component is the adoption of an ash disposal system that will directly discharge ash to the open mine pit. Water pipes will transport the ash and therefore sharply reduce its open exposure during the process.

The third component is supporting the removal of chemicals from the gasification facility- a part of the old “Kosovo A” power plant. The research behind this component has already been completed, and an Independent Environmental Impact Assessment of this study and of its proposals is ongoing. The next step in this project component is the local treatment of the waste, but also the removal of its most hazardous parts to outside of Kosovo.

" This project will directly impact peoples' lives by improving their health, their environment, and economic development. There are 10,000 tons of chemicals that must be cleaned "

Ranjit Nayak

World Bank Country Manager, Kosovo

The start of the work at the ash dumps was marked publicly by Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, at the site on Sept. 23, 2009. The prime minister called the beginning of the project implementation a start of a new chapter in the history of Kosovo's energy sector.

"The coal-dust hills in this area, created over a 40 year period, have always been a major concern and preoccupation for all of us. They are a risk to local residents today and a black spot on the map of Kosovo," Thaci said." The work starting today will make it possible for the residents of this area to live healthier lives."

The World Bank Manager in Kosovo, Ranjit Nayak, also underlined that this project was initiating the resolution of long-standing problems.

"This project will directly impact peoples' lives by improving their health, their environment, and economic development. There are 10,000 tons of chemicals that must be cleaned," Nayak said.

Getting rid of the ash dump and freeing up land for community development will improve the health of many Kosovars, but it will also represent progress towards achieving European Union standards of environment protection.

The Energy Strategy of Kosovo aims for the closure of five outdated and highly-polluting power generation units by the end of 2015. Since these units cannot economically be brought into compliance with the EU Directive for Large Combustion Plants, they would need to be closed by 2017 at the latest, as required under the Energy Community Treaty.

Kosovo is being supported by the European Commission in preparing the decommissioning of "Kosovo A" power plant units. Their retirement, and an increase in electricity demand to support economic growth, will create a need for new generation capacity.

In parallel to the Cleanup project, the World Bank is also supporting Kosovo in filling this electricity demand gap. The Lignite Power Technical Assistance Project- funded by a World Bank grant of US$10.5 million and a European Commission grant of Euros 2 million- is providing advisory services for the inclusion of private capital in a new lignite mine and the construction of a new power plant.

With outdated technology and poor management, Kosovo's electricity sector is putting the brakes on socioeconomic development- causing a huge drain on the country's budget and excessive pollution. Prolonged power cuts deprive people of light, heating, refrigeration, and cooking fuel- with obvious implications for their health, access to education, and overall quality of life. The unreliable power supply is a major constraint to business development, and hence, badly-needed employment opportunities. In addition, the Kosovo Government has continued to spend public money in subsidizing the import of power to cover for the gap between domestic generation and rising demand.

The new power plant is called "New Kosovo", reflecting the new standards in the production of energy and its supply management. The "New Kosovo" power plant will produce about half the ash production rate of "Kosovo A". The design is for the ash to be captured, transported, and deposited in the depleted areas of the active mines, all in compliance with EU environmental standards. The new technology will result in significant improvements in air quality of the capital city, Pristina.

The use of Kosovo's vast lignite resources for power generation in strict adherence to the highest environmental standards will go hand in hand with the development of renewable energy sources and the implementation of energy efficiency measures.