“Feeling of loss; some optimism”
A year since the end of coal-fired power production at Pego Thermoelectric Plant near Abrantes, the population feels the social and economic loss but also optimism about the future, reports Lusa today.
Mayor Bia Salgueiro admits: “Yes, the town felt it. At the beginning, it was very complicated because all the people were undecided and wondered what would come of it, ‘will the coal plant close?’ and ‘what will become of us?
Immediate effects were felt “through the workers, through restaurants, local commerce and also through individuals”.
During the era of coal production, there were “300 to 400 people in Pego living in private houses who lived off that”. A “feeling of pain” was generated by the lack of movement and breakdown of economic and social dynamics.
“We saw that our village became sadder”, she said, suggesting nonetheless that “now things are a little better”, in terms of perspectives.
“How can I put it? Maybe that light we saw at the end of the tunnel… the light has already come through the tunnel (…) via Endesa, which is already here, so we feel that this light is present, we feel that the workers are able to have a view (of the future).”
The reading of the mayor of Pego, a village of around 2,500 inhabitants, is shared by António Larguinho, owner of the Tulipa restaurant, who does not hide his regret over the losses, nor his moderate optimism with the reconversion of the plant for the production of environmentally sustainable energy.
Business “is weaker”, as one would expect, since Tulipa had many customers among the power station’s employees. The announcement of the closure brought “great apprehension.
“These are things we weren’t expecting, although there was talk. There was talk of 2030, then it moved to 2026, and then it closed in 2021.
“Basically, we weren’t expecting such a quick closure, but we knew it was going to happen. It brought losses. Naturally, it brought losses in commerce, in the movement of people, everything negative, around here, it was negative”, said the businessman, who left Sines 28 years ago to open a business in Pego, midway on the EN118, when he learnt that a coal-fired power station was going to be built.
The business vision was the right one, and, despite the turbulent times, Larguinho invested in remodelling the space, in energy savings, and adapted the restaurant to the new circumstances, with no redundancies.
“We have to do more accounts, we don’t open in the morning, nor do we open in the afternoon, because there’s not enough business to justify it – and we’re going to live like this until we see… but I think we’ll be fine”, he said.
With the end of the coal cycle in Portugal, a whole way of work has also ended for roughly150 people who directly or indirectly had a relationship with the power plant.
After several departures, including agreements or collective dismissal, there are about 20 employees still working in the infrastructure, with contracts until December (a decision taken while the tender for the connection point to the electricity grid and the reconversion of the equipment won in the meantime by Endesa, was underway) and nearly 50 former workers are currently undergoing training, in the expectation of returning to their jobs.
João Furtado, 64, an engineer at the power plant and one of the oldest workers, is still apprehensive: “If the Fair Transition Fund is not applied, all these workers, those who are active and those who were in the training phase, will become unemployed. They will lose more than 50% of their family income”.
Lack of information has been the main reason for the apprehension of workers, who were concentrated near the entrance of the power plant for Lusa’s report.
Abrantes mayor Manuel Jorge Valamatos, also interviewed on-site, announcing that he had received a guarantee from the minister of the environment of the continuity of social protection and training, “which reassures everyone.
“The information we had up until now was that training and protection would finish at the end of December, it would end there, and next year we’d have unemployment benefit”, said Fernando Machado, 59, representing the group in training, which “is quite diverse” in terms of ages.
“There are some colleagues who manage to retire, they’re close to retirement age. There’s a large number of people like me, in their late 50s, so too young for retirement, but too old – let’s say – for the job market, despite all the training we have, and the fact that we’re specialised in this area. Now, if companies are interested or not in retraining people at our age, and if we are competent for the project, we have to wait and see,” he added, “with some expectation”, according to Lusa.
Certainly, the Mayor of Abrantes is upbeat about the future.
“For 30 years, the coal-fired power plant operated to provide energy to the country. Extraordinary work was done here for 30 years to light up the country. However, in 2019, the government decided to shut down coal-fired production and let’s just say that, in addition to the regional and local economic issues, the workers were always at the centre of our concerns,” he stressed.
In addition to the announcement that “all those who become unemployed will receive support in their salaries, according to what was the salary they received at the power plant, and will be trained”, the mayor said it is expected that they can be integrated into the Endesa project (worth €600 million and the promise of “professional retraining” of more than 2,000 people) or others.
A fortnight ago, Endesa announced a new office in Abrantes, with the incorporation of the first ex-employees.
The coal-fired power station began producing electricity in 1993 with a licence held by Tejo Energia, valid for 28 years. The Power Purchase Agreement ended on 30 November 2021 and was not renewed by the government as part of the national decarbonisation strategy.
At the time, the PS government took a great deal of credit for being ‘forward thinking’ in turning its back on coal. Since then it has become clear that Portugal has continued to import energy from Spain, produced through coal.
Source material: Lusa