Energy Environment GAS Nuclear Renewables 9 May, 2022 11:30 am   

Nowak: Polish energy transition is in chaos (INTERVIEW)


Poland is split between ministries, it doesn’t have a host that would supervise the energy transition process. Because of this the transition is in chaos and lacks coordination – said member of the Civic Coalition Tomasz Nowak in an interview with When will eastern Greater Poland receive funds from the Just Transition Fund?

Tomasz Nowak: When it comes to the Just Transition Fund the situation is that at this point it’s not there. I mean it is there, but just like all European money it is in negotiations or suspended. We are waiting for money from the National Recovery Plan, but the Law and Justice party is blocking their receipt. There is also no funding from the Structural and Investment Funds and the Just Transition Fund. However, in these cases there is no conditionality associated with the rule of law in Poland and the judgments of the CJEU. The fact is that so far this money hasn’t arrived. We are prepared because we have territorial plans. The national plan is there as well, but it hasn’t entered into force yet. We expect more than PLN 1.5 billion for eastern Greater Poland, but we are already way behind. It is very likely that this year the there will be very big layoffs at the mine, and, in the near future, at the power plant. For example, the Pątnów II unit, one of the most modern coal-fired power plants in Poland, will be closed on 31 December 2024 unless the capacity market is extended. Before that, this year and next, the Jóźwin and Drzewce open pit mines will be closed. And after 2024, the Tomisławice open pit, which was intended to provide fuel for the Pątnów II power plant.

To all questions about the future of the region, which I have been officially posed, the answer was: “You have the Just Transition Fund”. First of all, we still don’t have that money, and it’s the government’s fault. And secondly, the government should present us with a compensation program for eastern Greater Poland similar to the program for Silesia. The government is not doing anything to compensate for our region’s shift away from coal. As a deputy together with local governments, I have been trying to get such a compensation program since 2018. The program should include a social contract with the miners – because it cannot be that a miner or an energy engineer from the Konin lignite basin, whose mine and power plant is in private hands, will be worse than a miner from Turów or Bełchatów. Regardless of the type of ownership of the plant, the redundancy regulations, retirement guarantees and the just transition should be the same for every miner and power engineer.

The compensation program could be adopted in the Sejm across political lines, but the Law and Justice party would have to have political will for it to appear in the parliament. Support from 15 deputies of the ruling party would be enough for such an MP-driven project to be discussed by the Sejm. Meanwhile, Law and Justice deputies do not think about helping miners and energy companies in our region, which means they are doomed to collect signatures under the Citizens’ Bill on Compensation in churches, with no guarantee that it will be 100 thousand signatures, or that later the Speaker of the Sejm Elżbieta Witek will introduce this bill to the Sejm.

What should the draft compensation policy contain?

Apart from the social contract, assistance for locating new companies in our investment areas. There should be two kinds – first increasing the allowed public aid. The Konin region is considered by the EC as Greater Poland, i.e. a statistically rich area. The Greater Poland’s average is, of course, overestimated due to Poznań and the surrounding area, because there the GDP per capita income is more than 75 percent of the EU average, but in Konin it is only 50-52 percent. Despite that we are in the 75-percent category, which means public aid for all investments that arrive here, large investments, cannot be more than 25 percent. While along Poland’s eastern border or the voivodship next to us – the łódzkie province, such aid can reach between 35 and 50 percent. This is why investors are running away from us, even our local ZE PAK, which due to this disparity in public aid, is building a hydrogen bus factory in Świdnik, not here.

I am also asking about the other aid that we should receive under the compensation scheme. Namely, the special treatment by the agencies for the promotion of foreign investments operating within the Polish Development Fund (PFR). I am asking whether and how the PFR will specifically install companies that will compensate for the loss of jobs in eastern Greater Poland’s post-mining or mining-related areas. So far I have not received any details about this.

Unfortunately, there is no minister or deputy minister that would supervise all of these aspects of the transition. Poland is split between ministries, it doesn’t have a host that would supervise the energy transition process. This was evidenced by the meeting of the subcommittee on energy restructuring, where even the chairman of this committee, the former minister of energy Krzysztof Tchórzewski did not get an answer on the plans for phasing out coal and at the same time launching new capacities, e.g. in offshore, because every ministry is shifting responsibility to the other one when it comes to these cases. Because of this the transition is in chaos and lacks coordination. In our region, we are already behind. We have redundancies, we have a lack of strategic investments in eastern Greater Poland and this could result in a huge problem. This is why I requested that a meeting of the subcommittee on the just transition be held in the Sejm on 13 May, with the participation of ministries, trade unions and local governments. We need to talk, for example, about the social agreement and the participation of eastern Greater Poland in the National Agency for Energy Security (NABE). And the compensation program.

When the mine and the power plants will be closed, the land will need to be reclaimed. Theoretically, the law guarantees that there will be a special reclamation fund. So, as we know, all of this is in the law, but we do not have a specific answer on how this will look in case of an accelerated phase out of mines. I am concerned, for example, about what will happen to Ślesińskie or Mikorzyńskie lake when the Pątnów II block is closed on 31 December 2024. This block is cooled with the water from the lakes. This means the Ślesińskie lakes, which are the warmest in Poland, will soon have a big ecological problem. I don’t know if there are any studies on this. I do not know what is the timeline for moving the water from the Varta river to the decomissioned Jóźwin and Kazimierz open pits. The National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management has a special water program and is already taking action, but we have not seen a comprehensive plan for reclaiming all of the post-mining areas.

The Russians have turned off the gas tap to Poland, and the government is assuring us that we are safe thanks to investments in diversification and gas storage. How do you assess the actions the government has taken in this area?

At the moment we are fairly safe, the question remains about the price of fossil fuels from other sources. However, we are in a crisis time of war and we are all aware that low prices won’t come back, and changing the sources of fossil fuels will make it necessary to change the paradigm of thinking about energy. This is not just about securing the functioning of our country, it’s also about the sense of safety, which will be costly. The governments of Jerzy Buzek, then Law and Justice, and then the Civic Platform knew that we had to cut ourselves off from Russian supplies. We have been very consistent about this – while in power the Civic Platform built the LNG terminal in Świnoujście, and the Law and Justice government is building the Baltic Pipe now. During the Civic Platform government, a reverse flow was built on the Yamal gas pipeline connecting us with the entire system of European gas pipelines, as well as interconnectors on the border with Germany and the Czech Republic, and we built and expanded gas storage facilities.

The question is whether there is a guarantee that the Baltic Pipe will actually be filled? This pipeline is an offshoot of the Euro Pipe, so we are asking whether we have received a guarantee that we will be able to transfer our volume and whether we have already signed contracts for this section. Secondly, there is the question of assistance to Ukraine, which will need help during the war and the reconstruction, so the gas will need to flow from here to the east. I asked the European Commissioner for Energy about joint gas purchases whereby the EU will look for free capacities outside of the existing contracts, which is different than buying all of the gas as part of the European purchasing platform. This calls into question our LNG and gas contracts from Norway. Do we already have these 21 billion cubic meters or are we just trying to get them?

Whereas the problem with oil is very serious. Within a month we should know what to do with import from Russia, how to replace it. The Naftoport in Gdańsk has a certain limit on the admission of tankers, this can be a problem. Meanwhile, from the government side, we often hear propaganda that we are safe, but we do not have answers to detailed questions.

The Green Party, which is against nuclear power, belongs to the Civic Coalition. Is the nuclear issue regulated in the coalition agreement?

We’re in the middle of a serious conversation about this inside the club. Our expert team has prepared a report that contains the objectives for our energy program. The atom is there. This is also a consequence of our previous actions before 2015. When we were handing over the reins to Law and Justice, we also gave them ready reports on the construction of an NPP in Poland. In the meantime, it will not be until the fall of 2022 that the ruling party will indicate the location and enter into socio-environmental consultations.

The problem with the nuclear power plant is that we agree that it should be built, but we doubt whether it will be built at the time when it is most needed. I think the whole of Europe will have to make peace with the atom, including Germany, which will have to return to this topic. There will be no alternative – at this point plans about hydrogen are just wishful thinking, and we need to plan on the basis of what is real. Gas as a transitional fuel turned out to be costly politically and geopolitically, perhaps the war in Ukraine is due to the fact that as Europe and the world we wanted to become independent of gas. It is good that we are moving towards renewables, but we also need to have a baseload in the system that will ensure energy security. We can talk about the atom, about offshore wind farms, but we also need to do away with the restrictions imposed on onshore wind by the 10H act. We also want to focus on off-grid energy self-sufficiency ensured by renewables at the level of poviats and communes.

Interview by Michał Perzyński