Cash-strapped Greece could save billions of euros in environmental and health costs by abandoning a reliance on coal-fired electricity production, Greenpeace activists said on Thursday.
"At a time when Greek citizens are making unprecedented sacrifices to address the economic crisis, the government burns taxpayer money on outdated and dangerous technology," said Takis Grigoriou, an energy spokesman for the environmental group's Greek branch.
The use of lignite, a form of brown coal, burdens Greece with up to 7.38 billion ($10.7 billion) annually in environmental and health costs, Greenpeace said.
In a protest outside the ministry, Greenpeace activists pretended to burn custom-made 500-euro notes stamped with the face of Environment Minister George Papaconstantinou, formerly the nation's finance minister.
"We would have expected the ex-finance minister to back green and economically productive solutions," Grigoriou said.
The state-run Public Power Corporation, Greece's main electricity provider, has long depended on its vast supplies of lignite to fire up its power generators.
Lignite is a major pollutant and the PPC -- over half of whose electricity production comes from coal-fired plants -- is Greece's single largest offender in carbon dioxide emissions.
Greece is trying to meet a renewable energy quota -- 20 percent of national electricity production -- by the end of the decade and has pledged to boost solar and wind power generation.
Yet the government still plans to build two new lignite units, the group said on Thursday.
Athens is also grappling with a debt crisis that nearly bankrupted the economy last year, forcing the EU and the IMF to intervene with an economic rescue that has imposed unprecedented austerity on the country.
The Greek government has announced plans to offload up to 17 percent in its remaining 51-percent stake in PPC, part of a sweeping privatisation drive to reduce the country's huge debt.