Turkey and coal

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Turkey currently has the fourth largest coal power plant development program in the world, after China, India and Vietnam.[1] Government policy actively supports coal power expansion and includes subsidies for new coal-fired power plants, emphasizing increased mining of the country's widespread lignite coalfields as a way of minimizing imports of hard coal and natural gas.[2][3]


Coal fields

Turkey has low proven reserves of anthracite, also known as hard coal, about 500 million tonnes concentrated in the Zonguldak basin in the western Black Sea region. But 15 billion tonnes of lignite are spread around the country,[4] and the Energy Ministry is prospecting across Turkey for more coal.[5]

Coal mining

Turkey is the seventh largest coal producer in the world.[6] In the public sector five hard coal mines are operated by Turkiye Taskomuru Kurumu Genel Mudurlu (TTK); and Turkiye Komur lsletmesi Kurumu (TKI) mines lignite in Afsin-Elbistan in southeast Anatolia. In 2017, according to the General Directorate of Mining, about 38,000 people were employed in coal mining, mostly by private companies in over 400 private sector workplaces.[7] In 2017 over 80 million tons were mined and the target for 2018 is 100 million tons,[3] almost all lignite. Amongst the proposed lignite mines in Turkey those in Thrace, Eskişehir and Afyon would be underground; whereas those in Konya and Karamanmaraş would be opencast.[8]



From 2000 to 2014 almost 100 miners died in accidents every year on average, and most mining accidents occur in coal mines.[9] Per GWh of electricity generated Turkey's mines are the most dangerous in the world[10] and unlike other countries fatality rates are not decreasing[11] Worker death statistics are no longer published by the government and ILO safety standards will not be implemented until 2020.[12]

Air pollution

Despite the dangers of PM2.5 there is no legal limit on its emission.[13] About 2800 people die prematurely every year because of coal, most from lung and heart diseases.[14] In 2018 at least 500kg of coal is being given to each poor family.[15] The Chamber of Environmental Engineers is calling for natural gas, instead of poor quality coal, to be provided as support to poor locals.[16]

Injury and illness

4300 hospital admissions annually are estimated to be due to air pollution from coal.[17]

Health Impact Assessment

Although there is no legal requirement for a health impact assessment during power plant licensing, campaigners may try to use a 2017 case regarding nuclear power as a precedent for coal plants.[13]

Public Opinion

Although the public mainly prioritizes the cost of energy concern about its environmental impact is rising.[18]

National energy and mining policy

Coal supplies over one quarter of Turkey's primary energy including about one third of its electricity.[4] While the government has flagged its desire to have a massive expansion in coal-fired power stations, some MPs and analysts are unpersuaded. Opposition MPs debating in 2016 complained that Turkish coal plants would receive large public subsidies and exemptions from environmental regulations.[19]

There are also risks that the government will lock itself into expensive power purchase agreements from privately owned plants: for example power from Çayırhan-B will cost 60USD per MWh for 15 years.[20] In 2018 TETAŞ (the state-owned wholesale company which takes up previously stranded costs) will pay over 200 lira per MWh.[21]

The national energy and mining policy (Milli Enerji ve Maden Politikası), announced in April 2017 by Energy and Natural Resources Minister Berat Albayrak, promotes clean coal[22] with the coal industry. In late 2017 the minister said that "By expanding the purchase guarantee, feed-in-tariff, we will start using the long-term incentive and support mechanism for local coal".[23]

The ministry, under the slogan and hashtag #BizimKömürümüzBizimEnerjimiz (our coal our energy)[24], aims by 2023 (the 100th anniversary of the republic) to have increased the coal-fired installed electricity generation capacity from the current level of 17 GW to 30 GW. [25]

In July 2017 opposition MPs requested a parliamentary enquiry into the health and environmental effects of the large number of coal-fired power stations planned and under construction.[26][27]

International opinion

Turkey's policy negatively affects its reputation in the world[28] and may affect future negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and at the G20.[29]


Renewable energy employs more people than coal. In 2017, according to the General Directorate of Mining, about 38,000 people were employed in coal mining, mostly by private companies.[7] In total about one thousand people are employed per million tons annual production of domestic coal (80 millon tons were produced in 2017), according to the ministry;[3] whereas 94,000 people worked in renewable energy in 2017.[30]

During installation of a solar power plant, a workforce of 33 people per megawatt is required, and 10 workers per megawatt are needed during the production phase; so solar power could create 180,000 jobs by 2023.[31]



In 2018 most large coal plants are being subsidized via the capacity mechanism.[32] Coal is subsidized via: transfer payments from the Treasury, investment incentives for coal extraction, and electricity generation from coal-fired power plants, R&D support, subsidies for mineral exploration, improvement financing for coal mines and coal-fired power plants, investment guarantees, price and electricity purchase guarantees, coal aid to the poor, and other direct and indirect supports[33][34], totalling over 2 billion lira in 2016.[35] These amount to about 0.01 USD per kWh (0.02 USD if coal support to poor families is included).[36] TETAŞ is the Turkish government owned wholesale company which takes up the stranded costs of domestic coal plants.


In addition to current healthcare costs extra are expected in future due to climate change.[37] And if Turkey's pollution regulations were improved to the EU Industrial Emissions Directive then removal of SO2 alone could cost between 75 and 100 million euros for each coal plant.[38]


In 2017 $1.56 billion was spent on 320MW capacity imported coal power plants that also commenced generating power that year.[39]

As of 2017 Turkey intends to spend $14 billion for coal mining development and coal-fired power plants by 2023 (the centennial of the Turkish Republic).[40]

A local energy analyst writes in 2018 that international financial institutions will not invest,[41] however BBVA, a Spanish bank, may continue to do so.[42] Future Chinese investment is uncertain as it is not yet (end 2017) clear whether China's recent environmental cleanup at home will extend to investments in other countries.[43]

According to a 2017 analysis from İş Bankası the 30 year USD based government purchase guarantee encourages domestic banks to loan to projects which would burn local coal.[44] Turkish banks have financed 9GW of coal power plant capacity:[35] for example Garanti Bank has made many loans to coal projects over the years and, as of 2018, continues to offer finance. However new coal-fired power stations could become stranded assets.[45]


Law 27605 will regulate pollution (except CO2) from power plants, but not down to the limits of the EU Industrial Emissions Directive.[38] Formerly all applications for a pre-licence for over 300MW (and some smaller)[13] had to first obtain an EIA decision[46] however now state owned and privatized generation plants do not have to comply with environmental legislation until end 2019.[47] Academics have suggested an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for operational plants.[48]

EMRA has 20 business days to evaluate an application for a preliminary license, often referred to as a pre-license.[46] Pre-licenses can be extended up to 3 years.[49]

Opponents claim that the “urgent expropriation law” has been used excessively by the current government to secure land to fast-track energy and development projects.[50]

Environmental Impact

Data from continuous monitoring of flue stack emissions is not published on the internet.[13]


Turkey's lignite coal produces a high proportion of ash, and opponents claim that toxic elements in the ash have polluted air and soil and could leak into groundwater.[50]

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

Because the lignite burnt in Turkey's coal-fired power stations produces more CO2 per kWh electricity generated than most other types of coal, and almost all hard coal is imported and thus incurs emissions from shipping; for every kWh generated in Turkey by coal over 1kg of CO2 is emitted.[51] Coal's share of Turkey's total greenhouse gas emissions is about a third.[52] Averaging 6 tons per person per year in total[53] (about the world average) thus about 2 tons per person per year is from coal, amounting to 154 million tons in 2016.[54] Turkey's climate is already changing[55] and the impact will be felt across the country.[56] Overall, Turkey emits 1% of the world's greenhouse gas, 1/3 from coal.[57]

Paris climate change agreement

Turkey has signed, meaning that it is now obliged to refrain from acts that would defeat the treaty's object and purpose.[58] However it is the only Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country which has not yet ratified the agreement and is therefore not legally bound by the terms of the treaty. At the 2017 (COP23) meeting to discuss the agreement Turkey requested financial support from the Green Climate Fund but climate finance was not agreed.[59] This may be one reason why Turkey has not ratified the agreement.[60] The treaty implies that OECD countries need to phase out coal use in power plants by 2030:[58] but if Turkey were to meet the target it set itself in 2015 in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) its CO2 emissions would still more than double by 2030 compared to 2013,[61] mainly due to use of coal for electricity generation.[62] This would amount to more than 2% of the maximum global emissions (required for the 2 degree temperature rise target) in 2030, and 4% in 2050 if the coal-fired power stations were used for 40-50 years.[63]

Carbon Market

The IEA has suggested that Turkey should have a carbon market,[64] but despite some voluntary carbon trading [65] there is a lack of political will for the necessary legislation.[66] A carbon tax would also be a viable option but subsidies provided for high carbon fossil fuel sources in the country, such as lignite, would first have to be reduced. [67]


In March 2018 the government was reported to be increasing the amount of sulfur allowed in imported thermal coal from 1%-2% to 3%.[68]

Building heating

Low grade lignite pollutes city air: every year about 10 million tons[35] of coal is burnt to heat older buildings, even in urban areas, where natural gas is available.



5.4m tonnes of coking coal and 0.7m tonnes of anthracite were imported in 2015 to use in steel production.[69] As well as using coal for heat to make steel some companies; such as Kardemir, İsken and Çolakoğlu; have coal-fired power stations at their steelworks.


4m tonnes of petcoke and 3m tonnes of coal were imported in 2015 to use in cement production[70] and the cement sector emitted 32 million tons of CO2.[71]


There are also many small coal-fired power stations at sugar factories.[35]

Electricity generation

Only a quarter of Turkey's primary energy needs are met from domestic resources and the country is heavily dependent on imports of oil and gas.[72] However hydropower is flexible and can supply over half of the 50GW peak electricity demand.[73] Per-capita electricity use in Turkey is around the world average of 3MWh per year.[74] Lignite and hard-coal fired power stations between them account for 22% of the installed capacity of the electricity generation system.[75] Approximately 30% of the coal used for power generation is imported,[3] from countries such as Russia.[76] The Turkish government is attempting to privatise the few remaining state owned coal-fired power stations.

Water impact

Turkey's lignite-fired power plants use significant amounts of fresh water.[77]

Coal Free Turkey

For more details, see Alternatives to coal in Turkey.

Mainly by taking advantage of Turkey's enormous solar energy potential and using more wind power, Turkey's energy needs could be met without using coal.[78] This would increase employment and be cheaper in the long-term.[79]

Electricity transmission

On average electricity is transmitted from the east of the country to the west. Sometimes power plants in Anatolia are curtailed and compensated due to transmission limitations on the European side of Istanbul.[80]. Lack of grid connectivity in suitable areas is hampering expansion of wind power.[44]

Existing coal-fired power plants

In 2017 over $1.5 billion was invested in plant to burn imported coal, adding 1,320 megawatts of installed capacity.[81] Power from coal doubled over the ten years to 2018[13] and now the 40 coal-fired plants[75] generate a third of Turkey's electricity[4], 92TWh in 2016.[82] Coal-fired power stations in Turkey which burn hard coal are generally near the coast as almost all hard coal is imported,[83] whereas those burning lignite are near coal fields.

Environmental problems and protests at existing plants

Activists board one of the world's largest coal platforms at Botas Oil Terminal, stopping barges from importing coal to the Sugozu (Isken) coal fired power plant.
  • Yatağan power station: Constructed in 1976, this 630 MW power plant lacked a functioning waste-gas filtering system for 30 years. According to one press report, thousands of local residents filed complaints, and the trials linked to the plant became "one of the staple cases at the European Court of Human Rights."[84] The plant has long been considered a blight on the scenic Aegean coast[85] and local people continue to protest that it has damaged their health and olive groves.[86]
  • Afşin-Elbistan power complex: A plant in Kahramanmaraş province operated without a purification system for 20 years, damaging local agriculture and leading to complaints from local citizens. [84]
  • Kemerköy power station: Muğla’s Gökova plant is blamed for ending efforts to develop the area as a nature-tourism destination.[84]
  • Sugozu power station: In September 2008, four climbers from Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior were arrested after they occupied a giant coal loading platform to prevent a delivery of coal to this coal plant, which emits 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.[87]

Coal-fired power stations financed by international public investment institutions

Coal-fired power stations which have been financed by international public investment institutions include the Afsin-Elbistan power complex.[88]

Proposed coal plants

"Let our lovely Gerze stay lovely. We don't want a thermal power plant to come to our Gerze..."

Turkey is planning and constructing new coal plants to be fired by local lignite mines in Thrace,[89] Eskişehir, Afyonkarahisar, Kahramanmaraş, Bartin and other provinces. However Gerze power station was cancelled after strong local opposition and opposition to coal in Turkey remains determined.

Anadolu Enerji and Hattat Holding Energy Group are two of the companies involved, and more companies are due to be selected during 2018.

Articles and resources


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  • Schernikau, Lars (2016). Economics of the International Coal Trade: Why Coal Continues to Power the World (2nd ed.). New York: Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-46555-5. 

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