The last few days have been an extraordinary time when it comes to polish energetics. The main focus is put on the inept approach of Mateusz Morawiecki’s government in the case of fair energy transition and the dramatic consequences of the pigheadedness regarding persisting with the coal status quo with reference to the Turów mine and power plant. What is the most important in this commotion?
The statement – without Turów we won’t have power in our households – it is not true as Turów produces only a little more than 3% of energy. It is true that without a deliberate strategy for change there is no chance that the country’s overall energy security and safety of energy sector and related workers will be maintained. However, conflict, which Poland ignored, around Turów has been brewing for years.
That is why it is time to prepare a comprehensive energy transition plan. Our deadline is 2030. And not by the “bad EU” or vicious Czechs, but by the economic and political reality and the need to protect all of us from the growing climate crisis.
Read more below!
The decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union has alarmed politicians and the media, albeit was not a surprise, as the international conflict over coal mining at the crossroads of Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany has been brewing for years . After years of fruitless attempts, based on available legal measure, to agree a compromise that the Czech government eventually challenged Poland before the Court of Justice of the European Union .
Thereby the Czech government stood up for the residents of the border region who had been presenting evidence of the mine’s dramatic effects for years. This includes lowering of groundwater levels, noise and air pollution . Last year, our German neighbors joined the protests against the Polish mine and power plant. They struggle less dramatic consequences of the impact of the Polish mine, but this is a small consolation. Because of Turów’s activities, groundwater is disappearing within a several dozen kilometers radius from the border of the open pit. In the Żytawy area the groundwater level has already dropped by 100 meters , and houses are at risk of the collapsing ground. Despite cross-border public consultations in 2019, the Czechs and Germans remarks were not taken into account in the environmental report in Poland. PGE also did not respond to questions from Czech and German politicians and inhabitants .
The ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is ultimate and immediately implemented, regardless of remarks made by politicians and chairman of the Polish Energy Group (PGE), a company whose main and supervising shareholder is the State Treasury.
The decision of the CJEU may be reversed if the Polish government reaches an agreement with the Czechs government and if the Czech side withdraw the complaint. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has announced that the Polish government is close to an agreement with Czech government, however Czech prime minister denied these reports .
Independently of further developments, the agreement on this case in only a temporary and not the final solution. However, it will not significantly change the situation in the region and the proposal to implement preventive measures will not be effective. The region still has no idea how to deal with equitable transformation which is known as imminent future. The main problem underlying the whole situation is the fact that the date for Poland’s departure from coal and the lack of an energy transition has not been set yet.
The only way to solve this conflict is to:
The Bogatynia region is partly dependent on the operations of the Turów mine and power plant. The complex employs about 2,500 people (data from 2011), and by adding the subsidiaries it is about 5,000 people. But this constitutes only 6% of the population of the entire Zgorzelec county . It is a mistake to say that closing the complex would lead to the collapse of the whole region. And also, you cannot say that the majority of inhabitants are in favor of further coal mining in the region. A local survey shows that around 50% of the inhabitants would like the mine to be closed before 2035 . In the Bogatynia region itself people who support operating the Turów complex until 2044 are trade unionists. This is all about their workplace which is understandable. However, some of the residents may not even realize that the prolongation of the coal extraction and the operation of the power plant means losing huge amounts of money from the Just Transition Fund .
The conflict around Turów, among other things, results in:
Blocking the entire process of reforming Poland’s coal companies. Unless the Czech complaint is withdrawn from the CJEU, or Poland will adhere to the CJEU’s decision to suspend production. It is rather impossible that the European Commission will agree to Poland’s demand to transfer the coal assets of Enea and Tauron to PGE GiEK and transform them into the National Energy Safety Agency (NABE). But what is the point if PGE GiEK is already the owner of the Turów opencast.
No. millions of households will NOT be deprived of electricity supply. The government often explains its sluggishness and fear of making the decision to move away from coal by the need to ensure energy security, i.e., to guarantee that there will be energy for everyone – for both households and industry. However, it is the continuation of coal that threatens our energy security in the long run .
The government has an available alternative that is beneficial to the Polish economy which are renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.
In 2020 Turów Power Plant provided only a little over 3% of the electricity consumed in Poland  and in 2019 – less than 3%. This is little enough that our energy system would be able to cope, even immediately, after its shutdown. The claim that shutting down the Turów power plant will cause outages is baseless. The 2GW Turów power plant represent only a minor part of Poland’s installed capacity. In December 2020, the toal generating capacity of all power plants in Poland, including domestic micro power plants, will exceed 50 GW for the first in the history of our country. Recent failures at the Bełchatów power plant , including the shutdown of coal-fired units that were responsible for covering about 16% of the domestic energy demand, show that the power system is able to cope with a sudden disconnection of a coal-fired power plant. Energy is then supplied from Polish reserves and imported from abroad.
There are also viable alternatives to coal-fired power station – prosumerism (roof-mounted PV installations), construction of solar and wind farms (land and sea), agricultural biogas plants, and utilization of energy efficiency potential. It is economically and technically possible. The concept of electro prosumerism has been refined in every detail. Electro prosumerism means to use only renewable energy sources .
The energy transformation towards RES can additionally provide 2 to 3 times more jobs than the expansion of the Turów mine and power plant  in Lower Silesia alone.
The costs of coal-based energy are much higher than the costs of energy from renewable energy sources (RES) . The government so far has artificially tried to minimize them (subsidies for individual consumers), as other governments have done, including by accepting huge subsidies for the coal sector . However, the costs of extracting and burning fossil fuels gradually continue to rise (greenhouse gas emission, the need to reduce of other harmful substances into the air and water). To the greatest extent it concerns the fuels which emit the most carbon dioxide which are lignite and hard coal, and gas to the second degree. The price of carbon dioxide emission allowances on the European Market (ETS) reached 57 euros in the middle of May and is now oscillating above 50 euros, making the coal-based power sector fully dependent on subsidies and government grants . However, the increase in the prices of emission allowances is also good news for the government: it receives more funds from the EU to finance projects reducing energy consumption and production from renewable energy sources.
Burning coal in coal-fired power plants results in enormous emission of carbon dioxide and the man-made climate crisis is growing, as we can see with the unaided eye, for example in scientific articles written in accessible language, such as this one about climate change in Poland . Burning coal also contributes to air pollution which is one of the most important threats to health .
The lack of courage on the part of those in power to admit that coal in Poland has no future, and that we need to rationally and safely plan to abandon it, as it is costing us all a lot. Despites the assurances by those in power:
Poland has no plan or date to finally move away from coal extraction, but is still negotiating hard for more funds from the EU to make the transition. The entire European Union is going to be climate neutral by 2050 (zero emissions or very little absorption of unavoidable ones). While Poland plans to mine coal until 2049, not to mention that emissions should also be reduced in other sectors such as agriculture, industry, consumption…
The government got caught in a vicious circle when it comes to move away from coal as there are many separate strategies, documents, agreements and the like – all of which together are incompatible. Example: The EU, including Poland, has undertaken to reduce emissions of 55 percent by 2030. And right after Poland adopts an energy strategy that completely ignores this goal.
Public support for renewable energy is very high in Poland, and the trend for use of subsides to install photovoltaics for own use has exceeded expectations of those in power themselves.
Most EU countries have already set dated and a plan to move away from coal, unfortunately Poland is not one of them .
It seems that everyone would be ready to plan Poland’s energy transition – apart from the government and state-controlled institutions and companies, as well as some trade unions.
A number of mining and energy decisions will soon be made, which together will determine what Poland’s transition and its impact on the climate will look like in practice. Most of them are publicly presented as technical and complicated matters, but all of them together should make up a simple answer from the government to the questions: When will Poland move away from coal? How can Poland switch to green energy and start fighting the climate crisis? These will include:
Negotiations of social agreement with miners led by Minister Soboń (limiting mining until 2049, the signing is scheduled for 27 May) or
The plans to create a dying coal assets of energy companies (National Energy Safety Agency – NABE)
But also, the decision of the General Directorate for Environmental Protection (GDOŚ) regarding the Złoczew opencast project – in theory a technical and bureaucratic formality (the decision will concern the appeal against the environmental decision for the opencast project) but it may actually shake the functioning of the largest coal polluter in the entire EU, the Bełchatów power plant.
The climate crisis is now the greatest threat to human survival on earth. The European Union, first, is taking seriously what the scientists are saying (in order not to fry we need to stop the average temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C, i.e., eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century). And the biggest sources of carbon emissions are  burning of fossil fuels in power plants, then transport (cars and airplanes), and processes involved in the production of industrial goods, and deforestation.
Besides, it also intends to build its new economic competitiveness on the transformation of its economy: through new investments and technologies. In this, as well as in the acceleration of these changes after recovering from the crisis caused by the Covid 19 pandemic, the UE is ready to invest big money. This is the meaning of the new strategy which is the New Green Deal (in the Polish version of Prime Minister Morawiecki devoid of the “green” element…) or the money for the so-called economic reconstruction (National Reconstruction Plan).
Open-pit mines in the Czech Republic and Germany have been the subject of protests by local communities an environmental organizations. In 2017, as a result of protests by residents of the village of Atterwasch (Germany – Lower Lusatia), LEAG – the Czech owner of power plants and open-pit mines in Łużyce – announced resignation from new lignite open-pit mines. LEAG informed that the corporation is: abandoning the Jaenschwalde-Nord open pit, abandoning the Nochten II open pit, and postponing the decision on the Wezlow II open pit. Additionally, in May this year, the German Constitutional Tribunal adjudicated that the climate targets set out in the country’s 2019 Climate Protection Act are unconstitutional. The Ministry of Environment of German has presented a new climate protection law with a 65% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and climate neutrality by 2045.
In the Czech Republic, a coal exit commission has been established which has been working on an action plan for the Czech Republic’s transition away from coal for the past few years and which has recommended that the Czech Republic cease using coal for heat and electricity by 2038. The Czech government accepted the year 2038 as a recommendation which means that the discussion about a more ambitious date for the Czech Republic to phase out coal burning is still open.
Photo: Anna Uciechowska, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons