Turkey’s new power plant exposes ‘huge contradictions’ of net zero pledge

The $2.17 billion Hunutlu coal fired power plant is the largest foreign direct investment in Turkey by China.

Despite the efforts of campaigners, and several pending legal challenges, the first of Hunutlu’s two power generation units became operational last month.

Its boilers now roar like jet engines as they burn coal to heat water to 600˚C (1,112˚F), turning it into steam to drive turbines that pump electricity into Turkey’s national grid.

EMBA, the Turkish-Chinese joint venture building the 1,320MW capacity plant, says that when a second unit opens in the autumn, the volume of electricity generated will be equivalent to the needs of the capital Ankara. But it will also add to growing greenhouse gas emissions in Turkey, which was the world’s 14th largest emitter of CO₂ in 2020.

Erdoğan has said Turkey aims to reach net zero emissions by 2053, yet the country has no target for phasing out coal.

A total of 2,700 workers flew in from China at various stages during construction, which was financed by three Chinese banks.

Ceren Ergenç, an expert on Chinese-Turkish relations at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, believes the Hunutlu project, first agreed in 2013, was partly aimed at supporting Shanghai Electric, the state-owned entity that owns 78% of the plant.

Hunutlu uses imported coal — and has decided to buy it exclusively from Russia. EMBA, which must import 3 million tonnes of coal per year, will keep buying discounted coal from Russia for “as long as we can”.