“According to statements made by the Minister of Energy by the end of the year, the public opinion will be informed about Poland’s energy strategy. Will it respond to the EU’s ambitious climate and energy policy? If yes, to what degree?” writes Piotr Stępiński, editor of BiznesAlert.pl.
According to information we have obtained, difficult talks on the shape of our energy strategy are in progress. The fight is taking place between two camps, one is for carbon, the other for nuclear energy. For years Poland’s energy policy has been all about carbon. This is confirmed both, by statements made by Prime Minister Beata Szydło, as well as Krzysztof Tchórzewski, the Energy Minister, who believe that the development of the energy sector should be based on domestic resources. The Government Plenipotentiary for Strategic Energy Infrastructure, Piotr Naimski made a similar point during the Energy Congress News where he stressed that coal would be the fundamental resource for the Polish energy sector. In his opinion we had so much coal that it would be the major energy supplier for the next 30 years.
One can imagine that Poland’s energy strategy will be pro-carbon, but to what degree? Michał Kurtyka, Energy Vice-Minister, said that Poland was on a collision course with EU climate policy, whose objective is decarbonization and low-emission economy.
But how will Warsaw comply with the policies proposed by Brussels? A lot is being said about the risks posed by the so-called winter package, and especially one of its flagship regulations on emissions level – 550 g/kWh, which will determine the support for new generation capacities. Coal fueled power plants cannot meet this expectation, so alternative solutions have to be found.
Whatever happens, Poland will have to construct new generation capacities because the existing ones are getting old. If this does not happen, blackouts will occur. Yet, it will be difficult without support. It is argued that the winter package will deprive Poland of its energy sovereignty by moving the decision process to the EU level. Additionally, according to Warsaw, Brussels is not taking into account the specificity of the Polish energy sector, which is based on coal.
During the European Economic Congress in Katowice, Krzysztof Tchórzewski, Polish Energy Minister said that “the target that by 2050 Europe’s energy industry will be carbon free cannot be achieved in Poland at all. With great effort and a cost at PLN 200 billion we may be able to reduce carbon participation in energy production to 50%.” This means there is space for nuclear energy in Poland.
At the beginning of the week, the Rzeczpospolita daily reported that in order to cover the demand on the national coal market, the resource will have to be imported. The main coal exporter, Węglokoks S.A., which belongs to the Polish Mining Group (PGG) did not exclude this possibility. According to the newspaper, more expensive, Russian coal was on the list. If so, it would impact the prices of energy and heat. Despite the fact that the company denied the information, PGG does have problems with fulfilling its production plans, about which the daily also reported.
When commenting on Węglokoks’s plans, Krzysztof Tchórzewski said that the fact that in the past few years investments in mining have been stopped was to blame for the potential necessity to import coal. However, we should not forget that the extraction of high quality raw material in Poland is becoming more and more difficult and expensive.
It should be pointed out in this context that a nuclear power plant could be an alternative and could ensure the energy sovereignty, which the Polish government is fighting for so much.
This is where we need to go back to the energy strategy. Let us remind that it was supposed to have been released last year. The current deadline is autumn 2017. The works on the strategy are taking place at the same time as the discussion on the development of nuclear energy, which is a low-emission energy source. This is an important source, which could be Poland’s bargaining chip in negotiations on EU’s climate policy.
The ministry’s representatives understand this. In mid May, vice-minister Andrzej Piotrowski talked about the construction of a nuclear power plant in Poland and stated that “the question is not if, but how this process should be conducted to make sure it is predictable and doable in a limited time period.” Tchórzewski also stated he supported the construction of a nuclear power plant in Poland. “I would like three power plants to be build in the 2050-2060 perspective. This technology is developing and it ensures energy security, which is very important for us,” he said.
However, today we do not know how much energy in our country will be produced by nuclear power plants. How many nuclear blocks will be constructed? What will their capacity be? Who will pay for this? Once these questions are answered, the energy strategy can be completed. It cannot be excluded that the supporters of nuclear power will win and that our energy mix will include nuclear.
The delay in publishing the energy strategy may be caused by the fact that money for the implementation of the nuclear energy project is being sought. Perhaps this is how the ministry is buying time to find it. The nuclear plan could be used to protect coal for as long as it is possible. The investment cycle of such a project is not short, but a clear declaration from Warsaw may send a positive signal that Poland does not want to go against the EU climate policy at all cost.
Nuclear energy is not the only remedy for the problems of the Polish energy sector, but it is one of the ways out. It does not exclude the usage of clean coal technologies. However, these remain capital-intensive, but contrary to nuclear energy do not ensure compliance with EU climate policy.
One of the arguments against nuclear energy is the fact that states such as Germany and South Korea are starting to abandon it and that the American-Japanese nuclear tycoon Westinghouse went bust. However, a stubborn position on coal is not a good solution. Especially that many financial entities and insurance companies are thinking about, or have already taken steps to lower their engagement in coal assets. This should be a signal to the decision-makers to take a look at the issue from a wider perspective.
The latest report by the Supreme Audit Office proved that the public funds devoted to saving the Polish mining industry were spent inefficiently. The EU climate and energy policy is a threat to Poland’s coal-fueled energy sector, but it also offers a chance to transform it. Will we take it?