Greece cannot swap coal for renewables because EU and German Monopolies won’t let them.

If you were to drive through the  areas of opencast coal mining in northern Greece you would see the Giant machinery run by Siemens and Krupps, two notorious German monopolies. Siemens, already runs most of the energy utilities of Greece, transferred into its power by the Troika and the conditions for the EU bailout plans. Pollution and Green energy is far from the minds of these multinationals when it comes investment. No way are they going to allow a switch to renewables.

Greek politicians in north western Greece have grown weary of the pollution and health risks resulting from local coal mining.

Driving through the northern Greek towns of Kozani, Ptolemaida, Amyntaio and Florina reveals a side of Greece that most tourists do not get to experience. There is no beach or sea in sight – instead, mines, coal piles and coal-burning power plants dot the landscape. The plants were run by the Public Power Corporation of Greece (DEI), which was mostly publicly owned, but the pressures of EU Austerity has changed all of that.

Environmental problems plague the region. About 80 percent of its power plants were built decades ago. They produce large amounts of pollution that breach EU environmental protection standards.

The German surface cutters rumble through the hillsides cutting through like cheese.

The coal mining has led to accusations of neglect and illegal conduct

Greenpeace has also blamed the corporation for an increased death rate in the region. In 2007, a study by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki found cancer to be the cause of about one-third of all deaths in Ptolemaida.

EU firms also neglect their duty to restore vegetation in areas that have been mined.

Migrant slave labour is systematically used nearby both in agricultural labour and mining as a source of cheap labour. The scandal of it has been to turn this into slave labour. Workers are poorly housed in less than shanty accommodation, wages are left unpaid, striking workers were left beaten up and even killed by unscrupulous employers. All of this in a European country and totally disregarded by the EU.

Cleaning up of the area damaged by mining would cost more than 5.75 billion euros ($7 billion), a bill the EU or the German companies will not pay.

Nevertheless if funding did come through, people would like to see the region undergo a clean-up similar to one that has taken place in Germany’s Lusatia region since the mid-1990s.

There, billions of dollars have gone into re-cultivation, removing toxic substances and converting open-pit mines into artificial lakes in an area spanning 100,000 hectares. The money has also been put to infrastructure projects, vocational training and developing local tourism. The efforts have brought various new businesses to the region.

Parts of Greece including Ptolemaida have seen levels of pollution that violate so called EU standards

Aside from pollution, another consequence of coal-burning is the inevitable exhaustion of energy resources. Northern Greece is expected to run out of brown coal reserves in about 40 years.

Meanwhile, the European Commission’s 2010 energy strategy fraud calls for EU member countries to draw 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Solar power prospects

Greeks want a transition to renewables because energy could come from sources that are neither exhaustible nor damaging to the environment.

The basic infrastructure for such an undertaking is already in place, with a power grid that does not need to be built from scratch.But the EU companies are disrupting it.

The region is also the main site of a solar energy project called Helios initiated by Athens. Greece planned to greatly develop its photovoltaic systems and even export solar power to other EU countries but it has stalled because of the crisis. It hoped for foreign investment to contribute.

A conference in Thessaloniki gave local Greek mayors the chance to discuss possible investments with representatives from EU and German holding Detmold. But Stefan Freitag of the Detmold public utilities company threw in a tangle with “points needed” to be addressed first.

“We have the currency exchange risk, which could become a significant problem if the situation worsened and Greece left the eurozone,” he said.

Changes on this scale need to be supported by local residents. That could be difficult. With about 7,000 full-time employees and 3,500 seasonal workers.

DEI has been the main employer in its region. Despite recent cuts, monthly wages of 2,500 euros ($3,040) for full-timers is still well above the national average. Solar parks and wind farms would require a smaller workforce, putting employees on the defensive.

Mining employers saw the strategy as “criminalising” the use of brown coal.they insisted that they, “needed conventional energy sources for times, when there’s no sunshine and no wind,” that brown coal should remain the main source of energy in Greece and now that seems to be the main provider of energy for the rest of Greece.

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