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Poles apart over coal as new government sweeps to power

poles apart over coal

Creative Commons: 2012.

When new leaders swept to power  in Poland in the 26 November election, they looked to be at increasing odds with their citizens – despite getting 39% of the vote – as they look to enforce their pledge to “rejects the dogma of decarbonisation”.

While the Law & Justice party says it will not let its coal industry be “jeopardised by EU climate and energy policy” a growing section of Polish society is getting fed up with the coal industry – with more than nine in ten Poles now supporting renewable energy.

Polish coal is dirty and expensive; it kills 3,500 Poles every year, costs billions, contributes nothing to the country’s economic growth and damages its reputation in Europe.

And the Polish people are increasingly taking action against the dirty energy source, even going to court over the toll taken on their health.

Their actions are already bearing fruit.

On 6 October, the former government gave the nod to a law tightening the domestic use of coal.

This victory came just week after campaigners experienced another huge win in July when Engie, the energy giant part-owned by the French government, announced it was pulling out of the controversial Łęczna coal-fired power plant Lublin.

Marek Józefiak of Polish Green Network said:

Cancellation of the construction of the Leczna coal power plant should be a signal for other energy companies operating in Poland. Changes in recent years show that the future of European energy potential lies in the renewable energy sources.

The victory was the result of a huge campaign both in Poland and France opposing the build.

In Poland, opposition focused on the plant’s close proximity to the Poleski National Park and International Biosphere Reserve Polesie Zachodnie and its well known impacts of coal emissions.

According to analysis from the Health and Environment Alliance the planned 500 MW coal plant would generate health costs of €2.8 million a year.

And in France – following a pledge from the French government in late 2014 that it would no longer finance coal power overseas – NGOs presented the Parliament with clear evidence of just what impact fossil fuel extraction by French companies was placing on communities around the world.

They appealed on French President Francois Hollande, to show he was serious about ending coal by ending state-owned Engie from investing in Poland and elsewhere.

With pressure coming from both sides, Engie’s exit from Łęczna was just the start.

In October, France’s energy and ecology minister, Segolene Royal announced the company would be terminating all investments in new coal projects in a bid to tackle climate change.

However, campaigners are now calling on Engie to make clear its future plans for the Lublin region, as its Polish branch – GDF Polska – remains in the process of gaining environmental permits for the proposed coal plant.

And as the coal industry continues to crumble, and with the majority of Poles support renewable energy it is no surprise that the country’s solar and wind power sectors are taking off.

In Lublin province the potential for renewable energy production from solar, hydro, geothermal and wind energy, is significant, while this potential also exists for the whole country.

In just six years, the country has increased its share of wind turbines and other renewables by 10%.

Redirecting the €17 billion of investments currently earmarked for new coal plants in Poland towards a renewables would be a much needed boost for a clean, healthy energy future in Poland. 

Such redirection of investments could have a huge impact on the clean energy industry in Poland. According to analysis from IRENA, renewable energy could reach 25% of Polish energy capacity if investments doubled to $4.5 billion (€4.1 billion) annually.

Doing so would reduce Poland’s carbon dioxide emissions and could save up to $2 billion (€1.8 billion) per year by 2030 when taking into account health and environmental costs.

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