There have been rapid changes in living standards and consumption habits, particularly in the last 25 years in Turkey. Our energy consumption has doubled due to such changes.
Unfortunately, our country relies on external sources for energy generation. Despite improvements, the imported amount of energy, in general, is around 70-75%, while it used to be 66% in the 1990s.
The installed electric power generation capacity of our country has increased nearly fivefold to 90,700 MW from 21,000 MW in the last 25 years. As of September 2019, 22% of this capacity comes from 52 thermal power plants that run on coal.
Thermal power plants can contribute greatly to pollution if relevant measures are not taken, and Turkey had 13 thermal power plants in that situation. The deadline for investors to make the required environmental investments to comply with the regulation was Dec. 31, 2019. This regulation originally dates back to 2013.
Six years have passed since then; however, they requested re-regulation and postponement of the deadline to a further date. The date they proposed was 2022. Therefore, these power plants would continue to poison the environment for another two and a half years. However, our president, who holds a great record of environmental investments, vetoed the regulation.
A campaign was initiated countrywide a couple of months ago aimed at breaking the record for planting the highest number of trees in one day. The trees planted would provide shade, fruit and wood and also absorb harmful carbon dioxide, giving us indispensable oxygen in return.
It was 11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2019, when people gathered countrywide for "Breath for the Future" as Erdoğan picked up the first shovel to plant the first sapling. All around the country, they facilitated the planting of more than 11 million saplings that day with the participation of millions of Turkish citizens, old and young alike. Furthermore, he dedicated the date as "National Forestation Day."
This campaign went beyond expectations because power plants are critical for the country since it relies on external resources for energy. We import around 70-75% of our energy annually. Despite this fact, Erdoğan did not give any concession. He prioritized public health, stating that he would hold his ground on the issue. Yes, power plants are critical. They run on local resources, not imported ones.
Though it seems small in number, the impact of these power plants is significant. The Afşin-Elbistan Power Plant, which had the second and third largest capacity of power generation from coal in Turkey, was also among them.
The share of these 13 plants within the country's 52 thermal power plants in the context of power generation capacity was 41%, which corresponds to nearly half of the power generated by coal. Well, for public health, healthy air and life, 9% of the total power generation capacity would be shut down.
The investors figured out how serious the situation was, and they took action quickly. They submitted their business deadline plans for the required investments. Some of them even made the actual investments very quickly.
And the day came for the deadline, Dec. 31, 2019. Despite the official holiday, we could not wait one more day for public welfare. The power plants that did not take the required action, the places which used to be considered "untouchable," were shut down one by one.
At the end of the day, five thermal power plants that failed to make the required environmental investment or failed to take any initiative toward this end, including the Afşin-Elbistan Thermal Power Plant A, which was the third-largest power plant that runs on coal in Turkey, were shut down completely; whereas another power plant was closed partly.
People living in the towns of Afşin-Elbistan in Kahramanmaraş province, Seyitömer-Tunçbilek in Kütahya province, Kangal in Sivas province and Çatalağzı in Zonguldak province, who have lived under the smoke of coal for many years, finally could take a healthy breath of fresh air.
In the district of Soma, locals use excess heat produced by the thermal power plant to heat their houses and for hot water, a kind of industrial symbiosis. It was decided to allow the plant to operate some units to avoid disrupting the lives of locals depending on the heat source. The decision was welcomed by the district's citizens.
This move came as a surprise for Turkish citizens – just like the first national electric car, which was launched on Dec. 27 and created excitement for days in both local and international media.
The car has a charming design, state-of-the-art hardware and advanced equipment like touch doors and camera mirrors, but most importantly, it is environmentally friendly. A 100% electric car – a vehicle with no emissions, no noise and no fossil fuel consumption.
All of these new developments happened in the last couple of months, requiring passion and sensitivity for the environment.
Just think! You heavily rely on external sources in energy and you have built power plants with huge efforts, using local coal in these plants. However, when it comes to the environment, you never hesitate to shut them down.
Why? For a future with clean air, water and soil! Our people will breathe healthy air!
Yes, some things are changing in our country. Things that used to be considered impossible are taking place today. The issue of the environment has always been an issue above politics and will always remain so.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has once again proven it. As Turkish people, we are grateful to him once again.
* Deputy Minister at the Republic of Turkey's Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, Chief Climate Change Envoy