Energy Nuclear 29 June, 2022 11:00 am   
Editorial staff

Mayor of Choczewo: We are not against the atom, but we want to be treated like partners (INTERVIEW)


The residents of the Choczewo municipality do not oppose nuclear power in principle. We understand its importance for the Polish economy. However, we want our demands on specific issues to be heard and treated with due care for such a large investment – says Wiesław Gębka, mayor of Choczewo, in an interview with We are in Choczewo, the future energy capital of Poland?

Wiesław Gębka: First of all, the commune of Choczewo has 5 400 inhabitants. We have the most beautiful stretch of beaches on the Polish seaside. The state’s vision on how our commune should develop is to a degree contrary to what we envisioned years ago, which was basing our growth on tourism and agriculture. Many people came here as this is a very peaceful place, it’s very quiet here and there is little human interference. Now this will radically change, because of the investments in energy. Two PSE (Poland’s grid operator – ed.) power stations are to be built in our municipality to connect offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea with the national electricity system, and we are to have a nuclear power plant with three reactors. More than 12 percent of the energy produced for the Polish economy is to come from this region.

On the other hand, these investments will contribute to a major change in the structure of the municipality’s tax revenues.

So they say, but we do not really know how it will look in practice. We do not have accurate estimates of the tax revenues that will be generated as a result of the presence of these facilities in our commune. These elements can be easily modified at the level of laws or regulations, and in practice they may differ from what we are promised today.

However, according to various studies carried out in tourist areas in Europe, where there are already nuclear power plants, the balance is rather positive.

Yes, I have had the opportunity to visit many municipalities in Europe, where there are already such facilities and the balance sheet is positive, but, it is worth emphasizing that the talks between investors and local governments look completely different. There is an openness, a willingness to do things for the benefit of local communities. It doesn’t always work that way with us. The investor mainly cares about their costs, not the well-being of the residents. That is a secondary concern. And one has to understand the people who live here every day, often for generations. Their voice should be heard.

With which investors the cooperation doesn’t look great – those from the nuclear program or from PSE?

It’s not the worst, but many elements need improvement. For example, we want to dig as much of the high-voltage line into the ground as possible. Eight high – voltage lines-400 KV-are to run through our municipality. Imagine how this will change the landscape. It is essential for tourism. We want to limit the impact of these investments on our natural landscape. We want as few forests as possible to be cut down during the construction of these facilities. We managed to convince Polish Nuclear Power Plants (PEJ, the company responsible for building the NPPs – ed.) to limit the area of forest clearing for the construction of the nuclear power plant. Every hectare of cut forest less is a success for us. We managed to keep the forest from being cut down in the coastal part, which we are very happy about.

What are your financial expectations, because they probably also appear in discussions with investors – both in the context of offshore wind farms and nuclear power plants?

If such facilities are to be built on the territory of our municipality, we expect concrete support and compensation systems. But, to be clear, we’re not just talking about money that we could just spend frivolously. Only for a few years now our commune has had revenue to the tune of PLN 14 million a year. We are not able to do everything we need to, even with EU funds. These require own contribution. To this day in some places, especially in the northern part of our commune we do not have a sewage system. In addition, the state of roads leaves much to be desired. We also hope the investors will take part in building sports facilities in the municipality.

How much would all this cost? Do you have a specific calculation?

When it comes to offshore, we expect PLN 10 million a year during the investment’s life span. Since last year, we have been receiving about one million zlotys a year in grants. Several investors are involved in the construction of farms in the Baltic Sea. Considering the construction costs, it should not be a problem for them to “chip in” for the needs of the inhabitants of the municipality through which their energy is to enter the grid. We don’t want to spend the money around, to throw it around. We’re not greedy. We just want investors to take into account that supporting the local community also requires financial commitment. And this commitment should be felt by every resident.

Are there any specific problems in investor relations, either with PEJ or MFW (Offshore Wind Farms – ed.)?

In the case of PSE as the entity responsible for the construction of the power lines, the discussion is mainly about high-voltage lines, which we feel should be dug into the ground across a large area. I understand that they can go over the forests, but in key places, near buildings, boarding houses, or other places serving tourism, these objects should be hidden as much as possible. That’s how they do it in the West. Why is it possible to dig in high-voltage lines there, but not in our country? PSE explains that it can only do this in urban areas. I believe that this is about money and convenience of the investor, and not a real desire to facilitate the lives of residents. In the case of the construction of nuclear power plants, there are actually two elements. The first is a technical road that will lead to the construction site, and the route of the planned railway line. We’re happy about it. This will connect us to the Tricity, it will be faster and easier to get there. But the route planned to Łeba via, among others, Stilo, where much has already been invested in tourism, is not optimal. This choice of route will not give us anything from the perspective of tourism. Surely one of the arguments for this route is the connection with the future service port for offshore wind, but we really want it to run somewhere else, we have already proposed a new variant. Another contentious issue is housing for the construction crews and operation staff of the power plant. PEJ is planning to build four thousand apartments on the territory of Choczew, on the lands belonging to the municipality. We have 18 hectares and we are currently changing the status of that area from agricultural to one where buildings can be constructed. PEJ wants this investment to be on their side. However, we want to carry it out ourselves, either with our own funds or in the framework of a public-private partnership, so that the money remains in the pockets of the inhabitants. We don’t want everything to be handed to us and not have, any impact on what is happening in our municipality. We want to do as much as possible on site. I’m willing to build a special kitchen to feed the workers. All this can be done on site. And investors need to understand that as well. As long as there is no involvement of local social structures, as long as there are objections, there will be protests. And these actions do not require excessively large expenditures on the part of the state, companies or other stakeholders.

What about the support for the nuclear power plant itself? What does it look like?

I personally support it, but I want this investment to bring maximum profits to the residents. Since the decision has already been made that everything should be built here, then let it happen as it should. We’re not selfish. I am aware that these are strategic investments, that they are important from the perspective of the whole country. Nobody wants power outages in a few years. But my job as the mayor is to make sure today that we as a community are a subject, not an object. We do not want to be talked to with arguments from special acts and other oppressive legal documents. This will not build support, but resentment and opposition.

As for the residents, many people remember the unfinished construction of the nuclear power plant in Żarnowiec, which had a positive impact on the local community at that time. Many also hope our municipality will grow. More investments, more jobs, a lot of incoming workers and staff that will maintain the power plant. According to polls, between 52 and 75 percent of the residents support the NPP. Of course, this varies depending on the place of residence of respondents, but in general the trend is positive. In order not to spoil it, the investor should keep in mind the well-being of the inhabitants of Choczewo.

Interview by Mariusz Marszałkowski