* Approval comes as expected after protests and delays
* EUR 1 bln investment key for plant’s life extension
* Protesters demanded higher efficiency
(Adds background, changes sourcing to ministry spokesman)
PRAGUE, April 29 (Reuters) - The Czech Environment Ministry gave the go-ahead on Thursday to a plan by power group CEZ CEZPsp.PR to refurbish the Prunerov II coal-fired power plant, a spokesman said.
The approval clears a major hurdle in CEZ’s estimated 1 billion euro investment in the plant, a major carbon dioxide source whose planned upgrade led to the resignation of former Environment Minister Jan Dusik in March.[ID:nLDE62H22D]
Environmentalists have objected to CEZ’s project, saying it would not use the cleanest technology available to raise efficiency and cut carbon dioxide further.
A ministry spokesman said conditions for the reconstruction were slightly tightened after an agreement with CEZ, but gave no details.
The tiny Pacific nation of Micronesia has also challenged the project, saying Prunerov emissions contributed to global warming that threatened to flood the country consisting of 600 islands.
CEZ had no immediate comment.
CEZ, 69.8 percent state-owned, wants to extend the life of three blocks at Prunerov, while raising their output and effectiveness, and close two blocks.
Overall capacity would drop to 750 megawatts from 1,050.
CEZ produced about half of the total Czech electricity output from coal last year, with the rest coming mostly from nuclear plants. The Czech Republic is a power exporter.
The Prunerov refurbishment is a key part of a wider CEZ strategy to upgrade its lignite-burning plants built on mines in north-western Czech Republic.
Dusik, nominated to the country’s caretaker cabinet by the Green Party, delayed a decision on the upgrade and eventually resigned, leaving the ruling to his successor, Rut Bizkova.
Reporting by Jason Hovet, editing by Jan Lopatka