Following the recent announcement that Spain is seeking a switch to 100% renewable electricity by 2050, European energy experts believe that the Southern European country’s plan to make the transition to renewables is an example to other concerned European Union member states seeking to move away from traditional energy sources.
As part of its ambitious plan, Spain has introduced a draft of its climate change and energy transition law - under the law, the government has pledged to cut greenhouse emissions by 90% from 1990 levels by initially installing 3000 MW of photovoltaic power each year between 2018 and 2019. Further commitment to a renewable future is the government’s decision to close 10 of the country’s coal mines by the end of 2018; a decision that will see 1000 miners and subcontractors unemployed in a country which already has an unemployment rate of 15.8%.
Spain’s future of 100% renewable electricity will not come at the expense of the coal miners who were responsible for producing 2.3% of Spanish electricity - instead, the Spanish government has agreed with coal mining unions to divert EUR 250m to re-skilling coal professionals in clean energy jobs, environmental restoration, plus early retirement plans for 60% of miners.
As the EU dictates that all 28 member states must source 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, Spain’s transitional move for its miners has gained recognition throughout Europe, with Montserrat Mir, the confederal secretary for the European Trades Union Congress, saying: “Spain can export this deal as an example of good practice. We don’t need to choose between a job and protecting the environment. It is possible to have both.”
Despite the praise for the Spanish model, Europe’s renewable future presents the continent’s largest coal mining communities with a number of concerns ahead of 2020 and 2030 in that the latter seeks to have each member state obtaining 32% of their energy from renewables.
A report from the European Commission expects Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece to be the most concerned, with the Polish mining industry expecting to lost 41,000 jobs by 2030. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Romania are expected to lose a further 10,000 each.
However, European energy experts have called for calm throughout these Central Eastern European countries and urged their governments to look to the Spanish model over the next decade as they seek to make the transition to renewables.
“We understand the concerns of Europe’s largest coal mining countries, but we believe that if the coal mining unions and governments cooperate as they did in Spain to achieve an exemplary outcome, then jobs and communities will be protected as Europe works towards a common future based on renewable energy. We, as an investor in renewable energy, view Spain as one of the most attractive markets for solar plants. Investment in solar energy creates new jobs and supports the economy,” said Andrius Terskovas, chief business development officer of Sun Investment Group.
Renewable energy in Europe will certainly play a role in the energy future of the continent. However, it is the responsibility of its trade unions and governments to determine how rapidly this will be achieved.