OREANDA-NEWS. The Netherlands may shut two coal-fired plants by 2020 despite interest in converting them to biomass co-firing, in order to meet the country's emissions targets, the government said.

German utility RWE's 600MW Amercentrale 9 unit and Swedish state-owned utility Vattenfall's 650MW Hemweg 8 coal-fired plant could be closed by 2020 along with five older units. Amercentrale 9 and Hemweg 8 were commissioned in the 1990s.

The government plans to investigate over the next few months by how much the two closures would reduce the country's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and what would be the impact on security of power supply. It should look into the findings in the autumn.

The government's proposed measure is "very surprising" and would not lead to an effective CO2 reduction, RWE said. The utility wants to co-fire up to 50pc biomass at Amer 9, which would bring emissions close to those of a modern gas-fired power plant, and contribute to the Dutch target of 14pc renewables by 2020, it said. Biomass is "an integral part" of the Netherlands' energy agreement, RWE said.

The plant was co-firing biomass under the Netherlands' old SDE+ subsidy scheme until a fire in the biomass fuel transport system halted biomass burn in September 2014. At the time, co-firing rates were about 10pc, suggesting wood pellet consumption of 200,000-250,000t/yr. No money was allocated for biomass co-firing in last year's SDE+ subsidy auctions, but RWE [said in October that it intended to reapply](https://direct.argusmedia.com/newsandanalysis/article/1115171) this year.

The SDE+ budget was more than doubled this year and the first auction phase opened in late March, with a second to follow in October. The Amer 9 plant was the only coal-fired plant eligible to apply in the existing co-firing category.

Nuon expressed interest in applying for SDE+ subsidies in this year's auctions, but said after the government's announcement that it would be willing to discuss the possible early closure of the Hemweg 8 plant as well as the possibility of transitioning to biomass co-firing. Any early closure of the Hemweg 8 plant must be "fair and responsible" for employees and the environment, Nuon said, and government compensation would be crucial.

The government plans to obtain 25 petajoules of renewable energy from co-firing biomass projects through successive SDE+ rounds, which could amount to demand of up to 3.5mn t/yr of wood pellets. If the Amer 9 and Hemweg 8 plants were closed early, there would be four coal-fired plants considering conversion to biomass co-firing remaining in the Netherlands — Engie's 731MW Rotterdam 1, Uniper's 1GW Maasvlakte 3 and RWE's Eemshaven A and Eemshave B, each with 777MW of capacity. All are highly efficient coal-firing plants commissioned last year.