Poland – Return to coal?
On 27 April 2022, Russia stopped its gas supplies to Poland. In the run-up, the Polish government had refused to pay in rubles and invoked existing contracts. Poland imports more than half of the total energy it consumes from abroad. Russia had until then been the republic’s main supplier, providing 75% of its coal, 66% of its oil and 55% of its gas.
Dr. Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk on the problem of energy independence while ensuring energy supply:
‘Energy security has always been a priority in Poland, but we are not yet out of danger when it comes to energy supply. Since Poland imports nearly half of the energy it needs, discussions at national level are currently dominated in particular by issues surrounding security of supply. The Polish Government has already done a lot on this front. But of course we also need to prepare ourselves for next winter.’
Despite Russia’s gas supply freeze, Poland is well prepared. The country initiated measures to move away from Russian energy supplies many years ago. The country can now report some initial success in reducing the supply of Russian natural gas. Over the last five years, work has continued on the construction of a Baltic gas pipeline which will replace Russian gas with imports from the Norwegian continental shelf. This fall, Poland will gain independence from Russian gas for the first time in decades and will not renew its gas supply contract with Gazprom, which expires at the end of the year.
In addition, the gas interconnector between Poland and Lithuania was inaugurated in early May 2022. The pipeline will transport Lithuanian LNG to Poland, thus making a further contribution to increasing energy security in the region.
However, transitioning away from Russian oil and coal will be much more difficult for Poland due to a lack of alternatives. Households still use 60% of imported coal for heating. The investments of EUR 21 million in sustainable building renovation announced by the Polish Government at the end of March will only lower household energy consumption in the long term. A short-term shift away from oil and coal is therefore not possible without triggering a major economic and social crisis, especially for Polish citizens.
That is why the Polish Government, like other Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, is considering stepping up national coal production. This is aimed at guaranteeing energy security even after the Polish-Russian energy contracts have ended. For Mateusz Kowalik of EUKI’s Just Transition Lab project, this would slow down the energy transition. His project helps German and Polish coal regions to plan a coal phase-out in a participatory process:
‘The alternative energy mix was already a priority for us long before the war in Ukraine, as we have been campaigning for the need to transition from coal to renewable energy sources for quite some time. We firmly reject a return to coal mining. Recent events have prompted us to adapt the measures under our joint EUKI Just Transition Lab project. To this end, we are organising a series of events on local alternatives, forecasts of the future energy mix and its impact on the region.’
If Poland wants to reduce or even stop imports of Russian energy and achieve energy sovereignty, Kowalik stresses, it will require not only a modernised electricity grid, a supply of sustainable heat for its population and immediate investments in renewable energy, but also help from the EU. Dr Gawlikowska-Fyk from Forum Energii also thinks that the EU has a responsibility:
‘While the European Green Deal aims to improve EU energy security and domestic supply, the EU has not done much in the last eight years to bring about this transition. And that will cause some countries to switch back to coal or lignite. We are also discussing this issue in Poland, as well as that of the emissions trading system (ETS) in the buildings and transport sectors. Inflation will impose severe constraints on us. The high energy and gas prices will become a very big problem for Poland and leave little room for expensive alternatives.’
Europäische Klimaschutzinitiative (EUKI) – Projektfinanzierung
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH