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Coal imports approval confirmed

The Cabinet announced Thursday afternoon that it has approved the use of coal for energy generation in Egypt, as part of the government’s attempt to solve the country’s energy crisis and its goal of adopting an energy mix that will ensure the country’s energy security.

The announcement, which comes after the Cabinet’s weekly meeting, appears to be more official than a similar statement issued Wednesday, which was made after the meeting of a smaller group of ministers.

The statement noted that the Cabinet would develop controls and standards for the importation and use of coal, support the use of technology to reduce emissions and work to increase the use of waste as an alternative source of fuel for the cement industry.

It also committed to following World Health Organization recommendations for handling coal, to implement a tax on coal users and to increase penalties for environmental violations.

The debate over allowing coal imports has been one of the most divisive issues faced by the interim Cabinet.

Citing a dire shortage of energy that has caused production to drop, a powerful lobby led by cement producers has been advocating that Egypt lift a ban on coal imports, a cause championed in the Cabinet by the ministries of industry and electricity.

Meanwhile, environmental and human rights activists have launched a campaign to maintain Egypt’s ban on coal, arguing that the long-term negative effects of coal would outweigh any advantages that might be gained by bringing the cheap but highly polluting fuel into the country.

Environment Minister Laila Iskandar has been a staunch and vocal opponent of coal, joined by the Ministry of Tourism, which is currently trying to raise Egypt’s profile as a green tourism destination.

Most recently, in a draft report dated April 2, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency strongly recommended against allowing the cement industry to use coal for energy generation, citing negative effects on the economy, public health and the environment.

According to the EEAA report’s findings, cement factories in Egypt use 22-34 percent more energy for production than similar factories in Europe. It suggested that if they use energy more efficiently, cement producers would have sufficient energy supplies without resorting to coal.

The report also emphasized that cement companies should focus on ways to reduce their fossil fuel consumption, with a goal of reaching European levels of 40-60 percent alternative fuels. In particular, it recommended that factories use municipal and agricultural waste as a fuel.

The EEAA also calculated that when factoring in external costs associated with coal, such as health and environmental problems, the fossil fuel is actually far more expensive than alternatives. It calculates that the total cost of using coal is US$12.2 per million thermal units, compared to US$0.38 per for natural gas or US$3.2 for liquid fuel.

It also emphasized that relying on coal, which Egypt would have to import, would degrade Egypt’s energy sovereignty, and put national security at risk.

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