Energy 18 September, 2017 11:00 am   
Editorial staff

Śniegocki: a turn in Poland’s energy policy still ahead 

The declaration made in Krynica by the Minister of Energy Krzysztof Tchórzewski that the Ostrołęka power plant will be the last new coal-fired power plant in Poland is certainly a step in the right direction, but we cannot talk about a full pivot yet, this is more about stopping moving in a direction that is contrary to pan-European trends says Aleksander Śniegocki Project Manager for Energy and Climate at WiseEuropa in an interview for Minister of Energy Krzysztof Tchórzewski announced at the Economic Forum in Krynica that the power plant in Ostrołęka will be the last coal-fired unit in Poland. Can we talk about some sort of a pivot in Poland’s energy policy? 

Aleksander Śniegocki: Minister Tchórzewski’s declaration in Krynica is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is too early to talk about a full pivot, this is more about stopping moving in a direction that is contrary to pan-European trends and about pointing to a moment when we intend to unequivocally stop betting on coal-fired energy sector. Also, it is hard to treat this announcement as a final one – it may turn out that we do quit on traditional coal-powered units, but we are planning others, e.g. based on coal gasification, which means we do not really know whether we are actually done with investing in a coal-fired generation sector.

What could replace coal?

The minister’s answer suggests that coal may be replaced by the atom, but this is a significant understatement – there is a huge time gap between the construction of the Ostrołęka power plant and the possible commencement of the nuclear power plant. Down the road we will have to build new power generation units and modernize old ones, but the minister did not mention any details regarding this.

During the forum the minister talked about a large coal-fired unit, leaving the door open to invest in coal.

The minister’s statement left a lot of room for interpretation, which is why it was not a definitive declaration on abandoning coal, but the sole fact that this has been even announced is a big progress in the ministry’s narrative, which so far has not made any limits for coal investments. New coal-fired power plants could be replaced with a larger number of smaller power stations that run on gas, which could operate as a backup for the system instead of being its foundation. It is also worth to invest in large-scale renewable energy, which so far the government has not accepted. This pertains firstly to wind energy and secondly to photovoltaics. These two sources have the biggest potential of providing energy to the grid.

How should we interpret the fact that the Dolna Odra power plant will be fired by gas instead of coal? Will others follow in PGE’s footsteps? 

This is a change that confirms the thesis that the pivot is not only rhetorical. This is also a peculiar shift in perceiving investments in gas power plants, which so far have been often identified as a threat to the country’s energy security. This stems from a few factors: ongoing diversification of gas deliveries, the necessity to ensure the security of the system by introducing more flexible units, as well as the fact that gas power plants do not have to constitute the basis of the system and be a drive behind increased gas imports. This means the gas power sector is beginning to be regarded not as a risk factor, but as one of the technologies in the mix, which ensures the system’s stability.

The situation in Puławy was reverse – instead of a gas-fired power plant, a coal one was built.

It is possible that this decision will be changed because of the emissions limit and the verification of the government’s expectations about the negotiations on moderating Brussels’ climate policy. At the same time, the nuclear power plant is a solution for the future, after 2030. The question on what will happen in the next decade remains open.

Interview by Piotr Stępiński