Energy 6 May, 2020 10:00 am   

Kidawa-Błońska: Energy sector should be professional and non-partisan (INTERVIEW)

“Energy policy is to a large extent dependant on the government. The president’s role is to offer support wherever it is needed,” – says Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, Civic Coalition’s candidate in the 2020 presidential elections in Poland. In her opinion the state-run parts of the energy sector should become professional and non-partisan as quickly as possible. What will be the biggest challenges for our next president with regard to Poland’s energy sector?

Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska: Poland’s energy sector needs to undergo a major transition in the coming years. The changes will entail the necessity to gradually limit the consumption of fossil fuels, to dynamically develop renewable energy sources (RES), which is determined by, among others, the requirement to introduce EU and UNFCC climate targets (including the Paris Agreement), as well as to improve environmental protection standards including air quality and water resources.

The energy transition means we will need to draft a specific action plan on how to transition to RES. We need to ensure financing and wisely engage capital institutions and other potential investors in this process. Preferential loans and a support system for the so-called green investments need to be widely available. The transition is also forcing us to approach economic development as a whole and to include the social and economic needs of Polish families, as well as the interests of Poland’s industry and Polish companies, including micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises. Another important challenge is the expansion of transmission infrastructure, including the completion of key gas projects, such as the Baltic Pipe. This is a matter of our energy security.

What about the expansion of the LNG terminal in Świnoujście or the construction of new gas interconnectors?

Our electric grid needs to be immediately modernized and new investments need to take place, otherwise we may experience energy blackouts. Huge challenges and investments are on its way with regard to heating, especially due to the necessity to reduce smog that is poisoning Polish men and women with increasing intensity.

Obviously, Poland’s energy sector needs investment capital, but it also needs a long-term vision, as well as efficient and smart management. State-owned companies should not be run by politicians, but by experts who know how to pursue large investment projects. Today we are missing such endeavors. Moreover, the majority of energy companies is incurring losses because, among others, they have to finance mining and there is no encompassing vision on how to reform this sector.

We will not complete the energy transition without setting clear goals and a long-term action plan on how to implement them, regardless of who is in charge. We will not modernize our energy sector when we establish an energy ministry and then immediately close it. This does not ensure stability, which is necessary to pursue long-term, capital-intensive energy investments. Establishing and shutting down ministries responsible for climate and energy or oversight over state-owned companies, constant staff changes in state-owned energy companies are a recipe for chaos and failure. This needs to end and we should make this our responsibility regardless of political affiliations.

What are the priorities of your energy policy?

Energy policy is to a large extent dependant on the government. The president’s role is to offer support wherever it is needed. However, considering the magnitude of the challenges we are facing in the energy sector I will not be passive. My vision has four basic targets. First, ensuring an inclusive dialogue with regard to energy issues with the participation of the private sector and NGOs. Secondly, political and diplomatic support for initiatives that will ensure Poland’s energy safety. Thirdly, I want to de-politicize and professionalize state-owned companies in the energy sector to, among others, speed up public investments in the energy sector. The fourth priority is to be open to dialogue and cooperation with the government with regard to drafting and implementing a long-term, non-partisan plan for the energy sector.

I will initiate debates about a long-term vision for developing Poland’s energy sector where I will invite all political parties, industry-related organizations and businessmen. I will be against every proposal that will exacerbate the organizational and institutional chaos in energy policy and state-owned companies. During meetings with heads of states I will support all good initiatives that will contribute to improving our country’s energy security. I will use the president’s right to legislative initiative and propose a bill that will put a stop to the never-ending staff changes at top positions at state-owned companies, which paralyze investments in the energy sector and drain the companies’ coffers. I will present a proposal to make both the management and the oversight bodies more professional. And I hope that the government and the parliamentary majority will cooperate.

One of the priorities of my presidency is the climate crisis. This is why I will do everything in my power to make a successful energy transition a pillar of an efficient climate policy. This is why I will establish a Presidential Council on Climate Security. It will be an advisory and an expert body that will include authority figures from the academia, NGOs and the public life. Its goal will be to formulate and propose to the government a National Climate Strategy and then to monitor its implementation.

What is your position on constructing a nuclear power plant in Poland?

Of course, this decision needs to be made by the government, which has to conduct an extensive cost and benefit analysis that will take into account our current abilities and a financing model, as well as alternative options related to the development of energy technologies. On the basis of sound expertise, the government should present a specific plan for further action as soon as possible. Considering the cost and the distrust among the Polish people hold towards nuclear energy, every decision has to be made with great care. Full support from the society is necessary. I think it is worth analyzing new technological solutions, including the possibility of using hydrogen for energy production.

What should be the share of coal in Poland’s energy mix?

A responsible energy mix should not be imposed by anyone in power, especially by the president. The composition of the energy mix is not stable. It is a result of a well-prepared and a well-implemented energy and climate policy that is able to quickly react to the needs of Poland’s economy, industry and households. It should also take into consideration new technologies in the area of energy as well as global energy trends. The participation of coal in our energy mix should decrease systematically. We cannot artificially sustain coal’s dominant role in our energy mix, especially considering the fact we are importing growing amounts of this fuel from Russia. Taking into account the agreements reached at the EU level and during the UN climate summits, my recommendation to the government is to quickly join the works on EU regulations for the new climate legislation. Whereas, domestically I would support the introduction of system-wide solutions, such as those proposed by the Civic Platform in our bill on ‘clean air’, which guarantee that we would quickly achieve air quality standards required by the EU Court of Justice sentence from 2018. Those solutions include, among others, a large-scale introduction of community energy initiatives and distributed generation with the usage of RES, increase of RES participation in energy production and lifting the limitations on their usage in Poland; a complete phase-out of coal in household and district heating by 2030.

How should we solve the problem of growing energy prices for households?

First of all, we cannot continue to allow the ruling party and the current president who supports it, to use this issue as bargaining card around election time. We need a clear-cut solution and brave decisions. Temporary ‘freezing’ of energy prices or compensatory payments, which in reality cover only part of the costs incurred by households due to the increasing energy bills, only postpone the inevitable. The problem will return bigger and at the worst moment. This is why I will support all good solutions that will benefit the climate and green economy, but at the same time will not be a burden on households. These solutions include the development of the prosumer energy sector and, most of all, the implementation of solutions to improve energy efficiency, which will lead to a decrease in energy consumption and lower bills.

Should Poland join the European efforts to limit CO2 emissions as part of the European Green Deal?

This isn’t about joining the EU efforts because already belong to the European Union. The European Green Deal is not just a new chapter in climate policy, it is an all-encompassing program whose goal is to transform the EU economy. Poland cannot be the only member state that is on the margins and a priori negates the proposed solutions. The European Union is about dialogue and negotiations. We should remember about the particular challenges Poland’s economy will face because of the economic and climate transitions, but Poland should participate in the emerging economic paradigm, and use the large EU funds devoted to this goal as a full-fledged EU member. Today Europe is focused on battling the COVID-19 pandemic and the majority of financial means is spent on the current needs of the healthcare system and economy. However, for the EU economy to recover after the pandemic as quickly as possible we will need a huge investment boost. In my opinion, this boost will be in the green investments sector. We should also remember that the European Green Deal changes the way of thinking, the approach to cooperation and the ability to cater for the common good. The crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed to us in the most painful way that we really do need to take a new innovative approach to the common good. Developing a united and socially responsible approach to issues such as climate, natural resources and healthcare is our most important task.
What is your position on a gas deal with Russia after the Yamal contract expires in 2022?

Energy independence and diversification of sources and supply routes were priorities for the Civic Platform when we were in power. I have always supported and will continue to support this approach. I would also like to remind that a number of investments between 2008 and 2015 significantly improved our gas independence. The construction of the LNG terminal in Świnoujście, the interconnectors with the Czech Republic and Germany and the virtual and physical reverse flow on the Yamal gas pipeline allowed us to significantly diversify gas supply sources. I understand that the Law and Justice party’s decision not to extend the Yamal contract was based on a reliable analysis and a sober assessment of our potential especially that, as the media reported, it has been already publically announced. And I hope that the Baltic Pipe will be completed on time, gas will be contracted and it flow via this pipe to Poland. I also hope that the government will be able to finish the promised expansion of the LNG terminal in Świnoujście on time, which will allow us to buy additional LNG loads. Finishing these investments on schedule will allow us to not only diversify energy sources, but also significantly strengthen our negotiating position in talks with producers of energy sources.

Interview by Mariusz Marszałkowski