Energy 17 June, 2020 10:00 am   

Trzaskowki: we should not rule out nuclear energy. I will propose a strategy until 2050 (INTERVIEW)

Rafał Trzaskowski is running in Poland’s upcoming presidential elections. He talked to about his vision for Poland’s energy policy, which could include nuclear energy. “We should not rule it out,” he said. He also announced he would publish a presidential plan for Poland’s Energy Policy until 2050. What will be the biggest challenges for our next president with regard to Poland’s energy sector?

Rafał Trzaskowski: First, we need to fight with smog, including eliminating coal from heating houses and apartments before 2030 at the latest.

Secondly, the EU’s multiannual financial framework (MFF) for the years 2021-2028 and the EU Reconstruction Fund is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Poland to transform in a relatively short time, with the help of additional financial tools, which a few months ago before the pandemic had not even been on the table, or whose budgets had been significantly lower. We need to be properly prepared to successfully absorb these funds during the new EU financial perspective.

Third, the mining sector – the situation in the mining sector had been difficult even before the pandemic started. Today, the sector is facing a radical restructuring and ended up in a situation where public aid has been banned by the EU, and the capital of state-owned companies can no longer be engaged. This will force the adoption of economic rationalization and will change the approach to coal as a strategic reserve. It is unacceptable to replace Polish coal with imported coal, especially from Russia.

Fourth, the professional power industry will have to inevitably a/restructure assets, b/maintain the security of energy supply, c/and – most importantly – achieve climate neutrality within the timeline proposed by the European Commission and the remaining 26 member states (including Hungary!) by 2050.

Fifth, we need to develop the gas and power markets – according to the President of the Energy Regulatory Office “the indicators of concentration on the gas and electricity market clearly show we went back many years. Years of liberalization have been wasted and the process was reversed”. It seems the market needs to be deregulated quickly, especially the gas market, to free the price effects for Polish consumers.

What are the priorities of your energy policy?

I will act within the president’s prerogatives. I will not sign any acts that go against the overarching aim of climate neutrality by 2050, nor will I endorse any acts that risk wasting tax money. I will demand an investigation into all signs of maladministration or working to the detriment of the state and state-owned companies that the public opinion has been informed about in recent years. In my opinion the future belongs to renewable energy, distributed and citizen energy; while prosumers, clusters and energy cooperatives will play an important, if not fundamental, role in the functioning of and changing the energy sector. Poland’s local governments will benefit from plugging into smart networks and climate-neutral towns. I will fight for a maximum decentralization of transition processes to increase the autonomy and responsibility of local governments for the changes, while honoring the constitutional rule of subsidiarity. Local governments should be equipped with a legal tool and funds (e.g. from a technical assistance budget as part of cohesion policy) necessary to adopt Local Energy and Climate Plans that together with spatial development plans and the National Climate and Energy Plan form a cohesive blueprint.

Poland’s energy security, especially the security of gas supply remains an important issue. In this regard the situation has improved thanks to the Energy Union that has been pursued since 2014. The Union introduced preventative and crisis measures that ensure the energy solidarity principle between EU member states is applied. This makes Poland safer. When it comes to cross-border infrastructure no significant progress with regard to gas supply has been made. The LNG terminal in Świnoujście, which was completed and opened on 12 October 2015 by the previous government, is so far the only project that really diversifies gas supplies to Poland. The other plans are at the design stage at best. When it comes to the gas sector, the government either on purpose delayed or failed to invest in gas links, which objectively weakens Poland’s geopolitical position. In result after 5 years no new gas interconnector is in operation. For completely incomprehensible reasons and despite their government’s support, MEPs from the Law and Justice Party did not support the European Parliament’s Gas Directive, which imposed EU regulations on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

When it comes to electricity, we should welcome the fact that the synchronization of the Baltic States’ power grids with Poland, including the Harmony Link, is continued.

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

Currently many EU states are considering nuclear energy as a valid option to achieve the climate neutrality goal and secure the stability of their generation systems, which is why we should not rule out this type of energy from the get go. The public opinion may be under the impression that the implementation of the Polish Nuclear Power Programme (PNPP) is stuck; that there is no comprehensive plan for developing nuclear energy, including a support instrument and that the solutions inherited in 2015 from the previous government were (recklessly) thrown away.

Today these kinds of projects in the EU encounter large, structural issues. We cannot disregard this aspect. At the same time, when choosing zero-emission technologies we should primarily focus on economic rationality and on the project’s feasibility. We need to avoid situations like we are facing today at the power plant in Ostrołęka (bloc C), where a poor coal investment had to be eventually written off. The future of nuclear energy and of any other fuel in the country’s energy mix, should be a subject of a consensus across all political aisles that will be expressed in Poland’s Energy Strategy until 2050. In this document we should finally decide whether we want to support and how to assist selected fuels and technologies in the transition process.

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

I will start my term with a motion for a quick departure from coal for all new facilities and a coal phase-out in stages for the existing ones (by 2030 we will eliminate coal used to heat houses and apartments, by 2040 we will get rid of coal in the entire energy sector and by 2050 we will achieve climate neutrality for the entire economy). After relevant discussions with the government and the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection and the European Commission I will allow to create a Strategic Reserve for coal power plants that will have to be maintained to ensure the country’s energy security.

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

I will propose to the government a Program for a Just and United Transition and a Program to Combat Energy Poverty that will be based on funds available in the new MMF (including the Reconstruction Plan), ETS compensation mechanism and 100 percent of revenue from the sales of CO2 emissions allowances, the Green Deal and the Just Transition Fund. A few days ago I suggested that as part of the new fund every Polish family would be able to receive 10 thousand zloty to conduct an eco-friendly renovation of their house or apartment. This should allow the end-user to finance the replacement of 100 percent of stoves that produce the worst pollution, to conduct a country-wide program of thorough termomodernizations and renovations of buildings, to disseminate the model of prosumer energy across the country and include the industry and business in transition mechanisms. The financing sources will radically lower our bills for the inevitable cost of modernization and transition of our energy and economy.

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

I will propose a draft of a new and ambitious Poland’s Energy Strategy until 2050 with a transition plan for the entire economy to achieve the climate neutrality goal by 2050 in line with the Green Deal and the usage of specific EU and domestic support mechanisms. I will strive for a cross-party and nationwide consensus with regard to this issue. To achieve that I will engage in a regular dialogue with all interested parties.
What is your position on a gas deal with Russia after the Yamal contract expires in 2022? Should we continue purchasing gas from Russia at all?
According to PGNiG, after all corporate agreements, it was decided that the contract will not be continued after 2022, so import under this contract formula will cease. Let me remind that the contract with an early opt-out clause was negotiated in 2010 by Poland with the support of the European Commission. Thanks to the LNG terminal completed in 2015 and gas storage facilities, Poland will be safe in case of a crisis. After 2022 the decisions on purchasing gas from any location should be made by market participants. The government should not use a guarantee for gas imports from Russia in the form of, e.g. an intergovernmental agreement. The policy of diversification of directions and sources of supply, aided by a simultaneous freeing of the gas market, which guarantees its competitiveness and the lowest possible gas prices, should be continued. Gas transit from the east should take place in line with market rules and EU antitrust regulations, like it is happening today. At the same time the key questions are whether we will construct the Baltic Pipe on time, and what is our plan B in case the project is delayed, considering the growing gas demand, especially on the side of the professional power industry? I will demand that the government answer these questions.

Interview by Mariusz Marszałkowski