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ClientEarth Communications

14th January 2020

Fossil fuels

Major court win brings the end to Greek lignite era ever closer

Following legal action Greece has ruled to annul the environmental permits for two state-owned lignite-fired power plants. The ruling has put the final nail in the coffin for planned power plant Meliti II, and left its sister plant Meliti I operating without legal permission.

This is the new normal in a country that is speeding towards a coal phase-out.

The background to the case

“This is a significant win for protecting Greek people and the environment from the harmful effects of burning lignite.”

In October 2018, ClientEarth, together with our partners WWF Greece and Greenpeace Greece, brought a legal challenge against the Greek authorities’ decision to renew the permits for two Greek power plants.

For years, the Greek authorities has given preferential treatment to state-owned power company PPC. In the case of Meliti I and its sister plant Meliti II, the Greek state granted environmental permits without evaluating the health, environmental or climate impacts the installations might have.  Known as an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), this evaluation is required under EU law when granting an environmental permit. Our case asserted that by failing to carry out the evaluation, the Greek authorities had breached EU and Greek law.

This ruling means that the construction of Meliti II will no longer go ahead and its sister plant Meliti I will need to apply for a new environmental permit if it plans to continue operating.

ClientEarth energy lawyer Eleni Diamantopoulou said: “This is a significant win for protecting Greek people and the environment from the harmful effects of burning lignite.”

Greece's shift away from coal

This court ruling marks yet another step forward in the country’s transition towards cleaner energy.

In the past Greece put lignite-industry needs before the health of people and planet. However, the country has undergone a seismic attitude shift in recent months and at the end of last year announced it would be lignite-free by 2028.

Following the decision by the Greek government to phase out lignite, state-owned power company PPC announced it would close all of its existing lignite-fired power plants by the even earlier date of 2023.

Meliti I forms part of PPC’s fleet and as such, even if it was to secure a new environmental permit, the plant would only be operational for a further three years.

Eleni added: “These recent developments mean the end of the lignite era in Greece and the beginning of a new, cleaner, affordable and efficient energy system.

“Money should now be going to genuinely clean alternatives, as well as affected workers and communities, to facilitate a just transition that leaves no one behind.

“Against the odds, lignite-dependent Greece is becoming an example for other EU countries to follow.”