I understand indignation of the Polish Government – the CJEU has gone too far in interfering in the energy security of Poland. We must finally understand that we are the coal black sheep within the European community. Moving away from a coal-based economy will be difficult yet inevitable. Jakub Kucharczuk talks to Jakub Wiech about Poland’s energy transition process.
What is the significance of the Turów energy complex for the Polish energy sector?
Turów covers between 4 and 8 per cent of the energy demand depending on the situation in the power system. Moreover, it is an extremely important entity from the perspective of system stability. It is, of course, very carbon-intensive, but it guarantees a stable supply of energy, which is particularly important during the peak demand period in summer and winter, and in situations where Poland has to resort to importing energy from abroad.
How will the conflict with the Czech Republic over the mine and the subsequent CJEU decision affect the energy transition process?
Turów has entered the public consciousness as a bone of contention between the Czech Republic and Poland but also as a situation in which the European Union decides on the shape of our economy. This will continue to be the case – as Poland’s energy transition progresses and more mines and power stations are phased out, the key explanation that will emerge is that we need to follow the rhythm of transition set by the European Union.
Such argumentation is politically attractive. Social resistance is emerging, which some parties – Konfederacja [the Confederation] but also Solidarna Polska [United Poland] (the wing of the government which disagrees, among other things, with Poland’s energy policy until 2040) – want to exploit. These are the circles that accuse the Polish government of a „submissive” policy towards the EU or Germany, arguing that the government could and should have won a concessionary tariff for Poland, but instead conceded the game without playing.
However, one looks in vain for reasonable alternatives in their demands …
And that is the problem. The EU has gone easy on us for a long time. We must bear in mind that Poland is the coal black sheep in the EU. Our share of coal in the energy mix is the highest of all countries in terms of the percentage of energy from this raw material. The problems we have with energy and coal monoculture are no longer understood in the European Union, even in those countries that use coal all the time.
We have slept through the last 30 years. We have done not enough in terms of the energy transition, although we have received many signals from the outside that this is the direction we should be moving in. Now we must pay the price. We are on the eve of a long series of energy crises. Turów is just the beginning.
However, we are well aware that the energy transition will not be easy for Poland. What should we be most concerned about?
This is a very big challenge and the biggest economic process in Poland after 1989. We need to build a virtually new electricity system over the next twenty years. This is an extremely challenging task, given how poorly we have managed such undertakings so far. However, now we have no choice. We already have a whip over our heads in the form of European Union regulations that are forcing us to move in a certain direction by means of mechanisms that affect the economic situation of energy companies and, by extension, the entire economy. By delaying the transition we are shooting ourselves in the foot.
Is the CJEU’s decision on Turów is also part of the „EU’s whip”?
These actions are actually very dangerous. Here I can fully understand the indignation of the Polish Government, which has stressed that the Court has gone too far in interfering in the energy security of Member States. It is also dangerous precisely because it could foster euroscepticism.
But let us focus on transformation. You have already mentioned that Turów is just the beginning. So what is the way out of this?
There are no ad hoc measures that would improve the situation in the Polish electricity system overnight. The current situation is the result of many years of neglect, short-sightedness and the belief that long-term trends are something temporary. Instead, it has become apparent that climate policy is not only part of the EU’s internal policy but has also become crucial for the Member States, and it will provide the framework for economic development in the coming years.
The goal of climate neutrality is also nothing new, as a significant reduction in emissions in the Union by 2050 was already mentioned in 2008. However, successive Polish governments have preferred to concentrate on their own internal energy conditions, failing to see that everything around them is changing and that everything is moving in the opposite direction to that taken by Poland. We also have a weak institutional state whose elites believe that it is better to allocate resources to short- and medium-term actions because they bring immediate profits. Long-term projects are lying fallow.
So what should we expect from the government?
Above all, consistent implementation of the Polish Energy Strategy until 2040. Even taking into account that in some areas it is already outdated and rather unambitious. The ruling politicians must also convince Poles that the energy sector is the foundation for further economic development. This is no longer a subject for squabbling between miners and the government, for example. This is an issue that affects the energy security of our country and must be considered at national level as one of the strategic fundamental topics of debate.
Is there any country in the EU that can be a role model for us?
I am generally opposed to this kind of thinking on the energy transition. Copy-paste is not the solution, as each country had different starting conditions when undertaking the energy transition. Our fundamental objective is a low-carbon economy aiming for zero emissions in 2050. Of course, this target will be extended to the whole of the European Union and not to individual countries, but we should contribute to its achievement to the maximum extent possible, for the reason that every additional volume of emissions that we will release into the atmosphere will be a financial burden.
Above all, we must say it openly – it is time to put a definitive end to coal. The government’s social agreement with miners does not reflect the real economic conditions that will affect the mining sector.
Coal in Poland, as far as the mining and power generation segment is concerned, will run out much earlier than 2049. We falsely believe that we have plenty of coal, and that this coal is valuable. In fact, coal mining in Poland is hardly profitable, and it is in our interest to abandon this resource as quickly as possible and focus on new energy sources. It will cost us a great deal of sacrifice, because this transformation will be very expensive due to the fact that we are starting it very late.
Do you believe that this scenario will start to materialise?
Absolutely without irony, I believe that we can be a transformational leader. By implementing its energy resolutions, Poland can be seen as a country that has spectacularly ceased to be a coal-based economy. That is what I would like to see. However, this would require great political maturity on the part of our elites, a focus on hard work, on explaining to the public why we are doing this, at what speed we are doing it, and that it will be difficult, but that we have to do it because it is difficult. Otherwise, we will fail and the failure will be very painful for everyone.
Polish version available here.
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Public task financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within the grant competition “Public Diplomacy 2021”. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the official positions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.