Poland has the highest domestic coal production in Europe, burning coal to provide nearly 80 percent of its energy. Despite investing in new coal capacity this year, the government plans to reduce that percentage to around 60 percent in 2030 and 50 percent in 2050. The country has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by almost one-third compared with the base year of 1988. For the last 20 years, Poland reduced its emissions by virtually the same amount as Germany, whose total renewable energy investment exceeded 250 billion euros ($284 billion). Because Poland has a large number of jobs in the mining sector (about 100,000 people working in mining since 2015), the government maintains that planning for the transition to a low-carbon economy needs to include maintaining economic development and jobs.
Poland’s Coal Industry
The Silesian region of Poland is basically Europe’s West Virginia, with the largest coal deposits in the European Union that fuel steel, heavy machinery, and shipbuilding industries. During the communist era, coal was Poland’s leading export. Many of Poland’s coal plants were built during that era and are now 40 years old on average.
Since the fall of communism, employment in the Polish coal mining industry decreased from 400,000 to around 100,000. The Pniowek Mine, for example, employs 3,900 miners working underground 24 hours per day in shifts, digging for coking coal used to manufacture steel. Other mines nearby owned by the same company, JSW, extract thermal coal to burn as fuel for electricity generation and other uses. Some Poles still burn coal to heat their homes.
Polish miners are celebrated on a special holiday, when they dress in uniforms bedecked with medals and plumes, and feast on pig’s knuckles and beer. They are well paid and can retire after 25 years, still in their 40s with secure pensions.
Poland also imports coal to run its power plants, in part because the prices of imports—from Russia, China, and India—can be lower than the costs of producing domestic coal.
Poland’s 2040 Energy Plan
The Polish government announced a 2040 energy plan that calls for continued use of coal, augmented by the introduction of nuclear power, to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, around 80 percent of Poland’s electricity production is provided by coal-fired generation. Poland plans to cut that in half by 2040, with renewables and nuclear providing much of the rest and gas-fired generation providing back-up. Under a long-term plan to restructure the coal industry, some of Poland’s oldest coal-fired units would be decommissioned and replaced with bigger, cleaner, and more efficient units.
Poland is also considering whether to open new fields of lignite near new coal-fired units which would take around 10 years to build or build a nuclear plant which would cost the same and take around the same amount of time to construct.
Poland also wants to reduce its reliance on Russian natural gas through the Baltic Pipe Project—a 10 billion cubic meter per year pipeline which will supply natural gas from Norway to the Danish and Polish markets. Construction of the pipeline is due to begin in 2020 and be operational in 2022 when Poland’s natural gas contracts with Russia’s Gazprom are scheduled to end. Poland also plans to expand its liquefied natural gas terminal by 2021. In December 2018, Poland signed a long-term deal with a U.S. company for liquefied natural gas (LNG)—the third such agreement for the year for U.S. LNG. The agreement is for 2.7 billion cubic meters per year over a 20-year period, which will meet about 15 percent of Poland’s daily natural gas needs.
Poland also plans to expand its transmission grid. Poland currently has 6 gigawatts of onshore wind and it plans to have 8 gigawatts of offshore wind installed in the long-term.
Poland and Germany are jointly responsible for over half of the European Union’s carbon dioxide emissions from coal. In Germany, efforts to meet its 2020 goals for carbon emissions have stalled, in part because of resistance from automakers. While Germany is investing billions of dollars in renewable energy, especially wind and solar, it uses coal to generate electricity at periods of peak demand, as the country is decommissioning its 17 nuclear power plants as a response to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan where a tsunami damaged a nuclear plant.
Poland plans to continue to use coal in its energy mix, despite also adding natural gas, nuclear, and wind energy. According to Poland’s president, “There is no plan today to fully give up on coal. Experts point out that our supplies run for another 200 years, and it would be hard not to use them.”