“Coal was and will be the foundation of Polish energy and it will remain so for a long time.” “Poland is quitting coal the fastest in Europe”. These are two contradictory messages sent by the same ruling camp. They show that the Polish delegation has not prepared a thorough and consistent message for the climate summit in Katowice – writes Bartłomiej Sawicki, editor of BiznesAlert.pl.
The approach to coal presented by the President of Poland Andrzej Duda, defending it and the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, talking about the gradual departure from this fuel, show the inconsistency of the message outside, thereby weakening the efforts for a just energy transformation. Just before the climate summit began, Polish experts were afraid that the main topic of the discussion would be air pollution, exceeding the permitted norms, felt at the very place of the meeting held in Katowice’s Spodek. However, the windy weather has enabled us to get rid of the “stifling” problem. Unfortunately, there was another – and thus the lack of a coherent message and position at COP 24.
With or without coal?
Already on the first day of the world climate summit, President Andrzej Duda emphasized, presenting the “Just Transition” declaration that our country is based on coal resources, which provides us with energy security, and this is not contrary to climate protection, and Poland follows progress in the fight with global warming. – Poland managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% compared to 1988, while ensuring energy security and industry development, based on efficient coal technologies – he said. The numbers that Duda gave are real, but they do not accurately reflect reality. The decrease in the dependence of the Polish energy sector on coal with 99% at the beginning of the systemic transformation to around 78% is not so much the long-term strategy of moving away from this raw material, but above all the collapse of this unprofitable, energy-intensive industry at the beginning of transformation. The quoted data may be a good argument for those who are skeptical about the EU’s too ambitious climate policy, but without a plan to move away from coal, Europe can not be convinced to our postulates.
The decrease in dependence on this raw material does not result from conscious decarbonisation, carried out by successive ruling teams since 1989, but from market conditions. And they impose on Poland, often a painful departure from coal. On the same day of the summit, in which the rulers made their declarations regarding Polish energy policy, the Polish Electricity Association (PKEE) presented examples of successful and failed energy transformation in other countries that discussed the plan and analysis of threats and potentials, as well as cover packages, training and consequences of transformation.
In the coal-mining area of Poland, in Silesia, this energy transformation is taking its own course, the direction is set by the market and climate policy, not governmental plans. This is evidenced by the numbers provided by one of the experts during the PKEE panel. Maciej Bukowski from WISE Europa said that at the beginning of the transformation in Silesia, 400 000 workers were employed in mining. Currently it is 50 000. As shown by the data, the coal loses the position of hegemon, but it does not lose its significance yet.
The climate summit also coincides with the miners’ holiday. Despite high coal prices, they do not have many reasons to celebrate. As shown by the data presented recently by the mining company, Lubelski Węgiel Bogdanka in the third quarter of this year, extracted 12,8 million tonnes of thermal coal in Poland. This is a decrease of 2,3% compared to the same period in 2017. In the first three quarters of this year, we extracted 37,9 million tons. This means an annual decline of 3,8%. President Andrzej Duda, however, said during a press conference at COP 24 that Poland has resources for 200 years and it is difficult to not take advantage of it. However, it is lacking to specify that the resources extracted are much smaller due to lower and lower available coal seams and mining damages. In the future, this may be a social factor that will stop the possible development of hard coal mining in Poland.
Use the coal demand to leave it
The decreasing number of employees in the industry, the share of coal in the generation of electricity and the level of its extraction show that the rhetoric of hard defense of the raw material no longer coincides with reality. What can be done now is to take advantage of the boom for coal, and the growing profits should be allocated to the energy transformation of the Polish mining industry. The construction of pumped storage power plants in the place of former mines is an opportunity for jobs and, at the same time, maintaining the energetic character of the region. Automotive is another. In Silesia, manufactured vehicles are fueled by petroleum products. This sector should also change the drive for electric and hydrogen batteries. Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa, one of the largest producers of this fuel in Europe (as a derivative of coking coal for steelworks), may initiate changes in the Polish mining industry, thus help to move away from fossil fuels towards new technologies. Polska Grupa Górnicza could, in turn, be interested in the development of pumped storage power plants. It is not only a change in the way of spending and investment, but also thinking, unknown in Poland.
However, is energy transformation and the abandonment of fossil fuels for green energy possible? Yes, as shown by the example of the Danish Dong concern, which now as Ørsted is a leader among energy producers from offshore wind farms. The oil giant, Statoil, follows the same path, which now develops the solar and wind energy as Equistor.
Consultation of the energy strategy at the climate summit
In the BusinessAlert.pl report on Saturday, you can read that the climate summit has a chance to correct the energy strategy presented at the end of November until 2040. However, it has not been included in the information that the signal for change will not come from outside, but from the government itself. As Jadwiga Emiliewcz, Minister of Entrepreneurship and Technology said at the climate summit, one of the Ministry’s remarks to the draft energy strategy will be to increase the emphasis on the development of pro-consumer energy.
Therefore, the question arises whether and what sources of energy will these corrections concern and at the expense of what other source of energy, and whether they will cover onshore and wind energy, and whether they will loosen the so-called a distance law (prohibits the setting up of new wind farms not less than 10 times the amount of this installation from the nearest buildings) limiting their development. According to the Ministry of Energy, after 2030 this form of energy generation is losing its importance. According to the Minister of Energy, Krzysztof Tchórzewski, then the offshore wind farms will become more popular.
The minister of energy also stressed during the presentation of the strategy that basing the energy on domestic raw materials, ie in the Polish realities on coal, should allow for the lowest possible energy import. Meanwhile, Minister Emilewicz stated in the program “Grafitti” in Polsat News that discussion should be started on opening Poland’s borders to energy from abroad.
The unclear and contradictory communication of the Polish delegation at the climate summit hinders the development of transitional periods and support mechanisms for countries such as Poland in a gradual abandonment of coal. As shown by the numbers of persistence at coal rhetoric, it is not the path to success, both negotiating and increasingly economic.