Energy Environment 1 April, 2020 10:00 am   

Hołownia: First we need stabilization, then decarbonization and a just transition (INTERVIEW) is starting a series of interviews with the 2020 presidential candidates. The first one is with Szymon Hołownia who is running as an independent. “First, we need to stabilize the situation in the sector. Second, we need to begin on a path to decarbonization which will include 2050 as our deadline for climate neutrality. Third, we have to agree on how to phase out coal and draft programs for a just transition,” says Hołownia. What will be the biggest challenges for our next president with regard to Poland’s energy sector?

Szymon Hołownia: First the situation in the industry needs to be stabilized, which means we need to avoid the decapitalization of Poland’s energy companies. Better management of resources and energy consumption will help to stop further increases in energy prices. This includes insulating buildings and introducing smart meters, just like other EU countries have done. Most of all, we have to make sure that energy companies are financing innovations instead of bankrolling the Polish National Foundation.

Second, we need to begin on a path to decarbonization which will include 2050 as our deadline for climate neutrality. During my term I will focus on achieving the intermediary objectives, which are the 2030 climate and energy targets. Those goals include, among others, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, improvement of energy efficiency, investments in renewable energy sources (RES) and connecting energy generated from fossil fuels with RES and prosumers.

Third, we have to agree on how to phase out coal and draft programs for a just transition of the coal industry and the entire business environment.

What are the priorities of your energy policy?

One of my slogans is “Generations, not terms”. I believe that on the one hand, we should ensure Poland’s long-term energy security and on the other introduce a just energy transition. I will expect the government to present a realistic, long-term plan for energy consumption because we will not be able to change anything without such a document.

The president will have to support the government in its negotiations with coal miners and in the process of transformation of the coal mining regions. I will support initiatives that pursue the climate objectives. Also, I will use a “green veto” against any bill that will ignore these aims and take us further away from the 2050 climate neutrality goal. I want the Social Dialogue Council to be part of the conversation.

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

Nuclear energy may be part of the answer to the climate crisis if only because it does not produce emissions. However, I would like to point out that the nuclear power plant projects which are currently in development across Europe have significantly exceeded their initial budgets and are way behind schedule. Additionally, all of these projects are pursued by states that already have nuclear power plants and in Poland we would have to develop these competencies and the industry from scratch. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect that a Polish nuclear power plant project could be ready before 2030, which means it won’t contribute to achieving the 2030 EU objectives anyway.

In order to decarbonize our economy we will have to invest mostly in RES. Analyses show that its costs have been dropping since 2010 and will continue to do so (the price of 1kWh generated with photovoltaics has decreased by four times since then). Energy storage technology and hydrogen production will also develop.

Eight years of investing in these technologies could render a big nuclear project for Poland redundant. However, we cannot preclude that medium and small reactors will be commercialized, so we have to be flexible about including them in our investment plans after 2030, but only if they are competitive in comparison to other energy sources. Either way, I am very eager to learn how the third generation of reactors, that is currently being implemented, will work, because its design includes the lessons learned from Chernobyl and Fukushima.

If the government introduced a bill to construct a nuclear power plant in Poland I would sign it only if it was financially sound, as I believe our overarching goal is to achieve Poland’s climate neutrality by 2050.

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

We need to understand what climate neutrality means for coal and for the people who are working with coal. I want to be a president for all Poles, which is why I intend to engage in consultations with miners about a plan for a coal phase-out. Politicians should be honest about this issue.

The participation of coal in the energy mix will be determined by our reduction commitments. Investments in low- and zero- emission sources will replace the existing coal generation. Shutting down coal-fired power plants, which can still function should be limited to its absolute minimum, but it will definitely take place, e.g. in case of Opole or Jaworzno. In theory these units could operate after 2050, but the 2050 climate neutrality objective requires that by that time Poland’s energy industry should be coal free.

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

Households at risk of energy poverty cannot be the victims of the overdue changes in the Polish energy industry. Solidarity with those in need is the obvious choice. Neglecting this may lead to catastrophic decisions, such as burning trash for heat or forcing people to choose between buying things necessary for a decent life and paying their electricity bills. Supporting such households may and should be linked with enhancing energy efficiency, e.g. by improving insulation or replacing windows.

Should Poland join the European Green Deal?

It is in the interest of our country to take part in efforts aimed at a global reduction in emissions. The European Green Deal means the entire economy should go green, not only the energy sector, but also construction, transport, industry and agriculture. The European proposal is a de facto plan to reclaim a competitive position in the global economy. Aversion to this initiative is equal to aversion to being a member of the European Union.

Poland may benefit from the Green Deal. We have competencies and companies that want to develop green technology. This is an opportunity to gain a foothold on the European market. Poland’s coal industry cannot be a litmus test of our decarbonization efforts.

Poland is the biggest beneficiary of EU funds, which are the driver behind our economic growth. As we are becoming richer, the amount of money we receive from the EU will be dropping because the idea is that we will need less to chase after the European average. Despite all this, we are way behind when it comes to climate protection. Therefore, this is an opportunity to build a green economy in Poland using new financing mechanisms from the EU. The Green Deal means a green budget. If we want to use it, we should join this transformation. This will not only help us continue economic growth, but it will also free Poland’s green investment and innovation capital.

What is your position on a gas deal with Russia after the Yamal contract expires in 2022?  Should we carry on buying Russian gas or give it up altogether?

We should continue negotiating. The LNG terminal and the increase in the number of interconnectors gives us a strong negotiating position. Moreover, because of the global recession we have a buyer’s market now. At this moment it is too early to declare any specific plans, regardless of whether we want to continue the deal or not, because it could undermine our negotiating position.

Interview by Mariusz Marszałkowski