Towering over the brambles and scrub of the valley is a huge old thermal power plant chimney. This Oslomej coal-fired power plant in Kičevo, North Macedonia was commissioned in the early 1980s and was the pride of the then Republic of Macedonia. In the decades that followed, the plant declined until there were only a few veteran workers leaving in the buses at the end of a shift. The 125MW plant was kept on a reduced working footing mainly as a reserve in case of problems elsewhere in the system. However, what has gone on in the surrounding scrubland has been an exciting development that will help North Macedonia move decisively forward with decarbonisation.
The Western Balkan countries are still heavily reliant on coal, particularly lignite. In 2016, 16 of the coal power plants around the Western Balkans emitted as much sulphur dioxide as all of the 250 power plants in the European Union. In North Macedonia almost half of the country’s energy came from coal as recently as 2018 and the country was heavily dependent on fossil fuels. There were then two thermal powerplants which ran on lignite – REK Oslomej in Kičevo, and REK Bitola – and Skopje was named the most polluted capital in Europe.
However, North Macedonia was keen to diversify its energy sources and clean up its air, and now this ambition is becoming a reality. The country’s first large-scale solar plant, Oslomej 1, was financed with the support of the European Union, Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF) bilateral donors and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and is now connected to the grid and producing clean electricity.
The 10MW facility was built at the former Oslomej lignite mine. The EBRD provided a €5.9 million loan, and the €8.7 million project includes a €1.6 million grant from the Western Balkans Investment Framework. “This power plant is an example of decarbonisation and transition to renewable energy sources both in North Macedonia and in the region. This is the first power plant to be built on a former coal mine dump in the Western Balkans,” says Aleksandar Stefanovski, engineer for new technologies at Power Plants North Macedonia.
The project plans to construct a second photovoltaic power plant, Oslomej 2, as a continuation of this one. This will have a capacity of 10 megawatts. Together, the two power plants will produce energy for 5,000 households in Kičevo and the region. “There is a future in green energy. We see the positive side because it should provide permanent, secure employment to the workers since those facilities last for 25 to 35 years. It is a very comfortable place for a person to reach retirement age and enjoy job security,” says Čedomir Arsovski, head of development and investment at the Oslomej Energy and Mining company.
Additional investments in solar power plants are planned in North Macedonia. The WBIF has already approved financing for an extension of the plant in Oslomej 2 and the construction of a new plant in Bitola for a combined total capacity of 30MW. The EU is supporting this investment with a €5.1 million investment grant.
About the project
In February 2022, the European Commission unveiled a €3.2 billion investment package to support 21 transport, digital, climate and energy connectivity projects in the Western Balkans. This is the first major package of projects under the EU’s ambitious Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, which the Commission adopted in October 2020 and the projects are designed to bring tangible benefits to all six partners in the region. The Oslomej 1 solar power plant is one of these 21 flagship projects, selected for EU financing through the WBIF in 2022. The project has been identified as “Flagship 4 – Renewable energy” in the EU’s Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans 2021-2027.
Photo credits: WBIF
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