A Brussels ruling has frozen billions of euros in free carbon allowances that Poland was claiming for 30 high-emitting but as yet non-existent coal plants, under the little known '10c derogation' from the EU's Emission Trading System.

A EurActiv investigation earlier this month revealed that one of the 30 plants – Łęczna, near the Ukrainian border – was a phantom installation, currently being used by local farmers to grow maize crops.

But after the EU's decision, “Łęczna is out”, an official in Poland’s environment ministry confirmed.

Karla Hill, the programme director for the environmental group ClientEarth, called for the EU to launch infringement proceedings against Warsaw.

“We are pleased that the Commission has sent a message that new coal is not diversification, modernisation or clean,” she said in a statement.

But “we cannot ignore the fact that the Polish government issued empty greenhouse gas permits in breach of EU law to gain unfair advantage for coal investment,” she added.

Intricate ruling

In an intricate ruling, the EU decided that although the 30 plants’ investment processes had technically been “physically initiated”, they had also been double-entered in Poland’s national plan for clean energy investments.

As a result, any free carbon allowances issued to them would have to go into a ‘basket’ that plant operators could only use to compensate for other green investments, once the 10c installations were already up and running.

Because of the time it takes to build an operational power plant – and the 2020 deadline by which 10c carbon allowances must be used – few, if any, of the operators are thought likely to exercise this option.   

“It’s a huge amount of money that Poland did not get,” one Brussels insider said.

However, the total value of the energy investment programme covered by Poland’s carbon allowance application is close to €50 billion, and officials in Warsaw had privately feared worse.

One told EurActiv that the EU’s decision “looks good but we still have to calculate how the investment programme will look after all the installations are deleted.”

“We got all the allowances we applied for,” he added, “and we are not considering appealing the result. It’s something we accept.”

An 'elegant' solution

An EU source described the 10c decision as an “elegant” solution that allowed all parties to save face.

Of the power plants whose investment programmes have been excluded from the no-strings-attached free carbon allowance issue: six belong to GDF Suez; PGE, EDF and Tauron own five each; Vattenfall has two; and ČEZ, Kulczyk, Fortum, Melamina and Stora Enso all have one apiece.