Climate change summit brings Polish energy strategy to the fore

The United Nations Conference on Climate Change will take place in Warsaw next week but in the background a battle is raging between renewable and coal interests in the host country.

Last month European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard warned Poland that the construction of two new coal-fired units at Opole would be in violation of EU regulations, if the country goes ahead without assessing for carbon capture and storage (CCS) readiness.

The conference is intended as a key step towards the agreement of a new international climate change treaty at a Summit in Paris in 2015, but Poland’s refusal to fully adopt CCS is being seen as a real elephant in the room, not least because the coal industry has scheduled its own climate summit meeting in Warsaw to run concurrently with the event.

Cooling towers

The host government also opposes deepening the bloc’s emissions cuts from the current target of 20 per cent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels.

Michal Olszewski, media and policy officer for the non-profit environmental law organisation, Client Earth, told Power Engineering International (PEi) that while the Polish government hadn’t given an official response to Hedegaard’s comments their position was easy to gauge as in the middle of September the ministry of environment commented on the CCS issue complaining that it could be a very dangerous technology that Poland has no intention of implementing.

“It sounds very strange, because if we want to base our energy mix on coal I am unable to understand why the Polish government locks out the development of these kinds of technology. The CCS directive was introduced to an extent after two years of effort, but it was done in a very strange way. The interpretation, in practice, blocks the commercial use of this technology; the Polish government only wants to develop demonstration CCS.”

Client Earth Poland made an official complaint to the European Union about the Polish government’s delay in full implementation of CCS as the two new units proposed for Opole are capable of generating 900 MW of power, and without the technology, would emit 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 over the next 55 years.

Meanwhile there is deep cynicism in Warsaw about the direction Brussels has taken in terms of the climate change debate. In short officials say that it is too much, too quickly and they would prefer a situation where each country’s merits were dealt with on an individual basis. The administration is likely to try again to check European ambitions on emissions targets.

While renewables‘ share is gradually increasing, the government intends coal to remain the staple source of energy. The coal industry and affiliated sectors provide almost 600,000 jobs.

Many of coal’s proponents in the country say they cannot afford to convert to alternative sources of energy rapidly and Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocià…„ski said as much when proclaiming that Poland would fight any new EU climate change goals for 2030.

“The European Commission, which failed to tackle the economic crisis at the last minute before leaving, wants to set new climate goals for 2030. There will be no permission for that on our part. We are willing to call for a referendum for the first time in Europe.”

His colleague, Marcin Korolec, the environmental minister, said, “I am not sceptical about climate change; I am sceptical about some European ways of how to address it.”

Michal Olszewski of Client Earthà‚  Client Earth’s Olszewski (Left) told PEi that the government’s policy of appeasing the coal lobby was not a wise one and with the coal sector in terminal decline potentially disastrous for the country’s economy after the medium term.

à‚ He says one of Poland’s biggest issues is the motivation not to be manipulated by a dependence on Russian imports. However the domestic economy has grown so that Poland can no longer meet its own coal needs. It is now a net importer of coal and Russia accounts for about two-thirds of those imports.

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“We are sensitive when it comes to our independence. We don’t like Russian gas as it’s an economic weapon in Russian hands, but nobody takes into consideration that instead of gas we will have to buy hard coal for example from Siberia.

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Poland has twice used its veto in the European Council to oppose long term climate targets in recent years, much to the chagrin of many in Brussels.

à‚  Lena Kolarska-Bobinska, a member of Poland’s governing party who serves in the European Parliament, told the New York Times last week that Poland wants to diversify its energy mix but at its own pace.

à‚  “What we are trying to do is to influence the speed with which the European Union is pushing. It’s very easy for some countries to say we want a 30, 40, 45 per cent goal of renewables. Many political groups in the Parliament are asking for that. But they have to remember how diversified the countries are in Europe. Give each country the possibility to reach this target in their own way.”

Unfortunately for proponents of renewable power in Poland, climate policy is perceived as a grave threat to the country’s economic progress, despite efforts by the green lobby to emphasise the stability wind power in particular can bring to the energy sector.

For now Olszewski and other green supporters will remain perplexed by Poland’s continued desire to stick with coal, despite evidence that it is no longer a viable future power source.

“The analysis shows that Polish hard coal will finish during the next three decades so I struggle to understand the reasoning for building new coal-fired power plants. Where will we take hard coal from in the next few decades ” more from Russia, Australia?”

Both arguments have their merits so next week’s conference is bound to see great efforts to wrest the initiative, with important signalling for Poland and the world’s energy future.

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