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Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Coal exploitation is set to end in Spain on Monday, trailing the closure of Germany's last black coal mine a week earlier, as part of a European Union plan aimed at improving the environment.
As many as 26 coal operations, of which 12 were still active, will have to end all exploitation activities by Monday or else will have to return some $572 million in public funds, as per a European Commission agreement eight years ago, El Pais newspaper reported this weekend.
Coal exploitation had long been on the decline in Spain with 2,046 workers listed as of November, down from 51,420 in 1985, it added. Nearly 90 percent of coal used in Spain to generate electricity came this year from Colombia or Russia.
The coal operations were no longer economically sustainable because of an emissions market in the European Union that forces companies to pay $22.90 per each metric ton of carbon dioxide released to the environment.
Of the 15 electricity plants that continue to burn coal for electricity in Spain, and generate 14 percent of the total, nine will close within a year and a half, according to plans presented by the companies owners to the government.
European Union authorities had accepted in 2010 that coal mine operations would receive aid, a move that benefitted Spain, Germany and Rumania, but on the condition that all operations would have to end on the last day of 2018. In the case of Spain that aid was worth $572 million, El Pais said
In Germany, the Prosper-Haniel black coal mine was closed on Dec. 21 in a ceremony marking the end of a 155-year operation.
The decision to close the mine was taken in 2007, when there were 30,000 coal miners in Germany, compared with 5,700 miners at the end of last year. Most of them were based in Bottrop, the coal town in the industrial Ruhr Valley home to Prosper-Haniel, DeutscheWelle reported.
Germany will continue with the extraction of lignite, or brown coal, as it involves lower costs than black coal extraction. An open-cast mine near Cologne is seeing its extraction area expand. A federal commission will decide how long the mine will operate, taking in consideration climate targets for 2030, DW added.
In Romania, according to an Energy World report from earlier this year, there were plans to end exploitation of two important mines named Lonea and Lupeni, which were uncompetitive. The two mines were among the oldest in the Valea Jiului mining area.
Large scale coal mining and consumption continues in other parts of the world, primarily in the United States and China. However, there are efforts underway to reduce its use.
In the United States, coal consumption to generate electricity has also been on the decline, in part to due more competitive alternative energy prices, especially natural gas, and also driven by stricter emission standards required by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule in 2015.
In the United States, as of the end of last year, there were still 941 coal-based power generators, with some expected to be retired during 2018 and 2019.
China, has in recent years accounted for just under half of the world's total consumption, trailed by the United States with just over 10 percent, is also planning to cut down.
China is working to reduce annual coal consumption to 3.5 billion metric tones annually by 2020. Plans included a reduction of 30 million metric tons of coal consumption in 2018.