Poland to treat coal addiction by embracing nuclear power

Polish Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski cast doubt on the future of coal power, as well as teasing details of plans to go nuclear. [European Council]

Poland’s ongoing large-scale investment in three new coal-fired power plants may be the country’s last fossil fuel venture, its energy minister said last week, indicating a possible energy shift in the EU’s largest eastern member amid revived plans to embrace nuclear power.

Minister Krzysztof Tchórzewski told the Krynica-Zdrój Economic Forum in southern Poland that once the country’s state-run energy firms have finished the three coal projects currently under construction, no more investments are planned.

“After completing the investments that are now being conducted in big coal-fuelled units, we will not be planning new projects based on coal,” Tchórzewski told the forum on Wednesday (6 September).

But that does not mean an end to large-scale funding of energy infrastructure, as Poland has aspirations to open its first nuclear power plant by the end of the next decade.

Finland doubles down on nuclear power as coal heads out the door

Finland is set to embrace a decarbonised future by increasing carbon taxes and introducing laws in 2018 that will begin to phase out the use of coal, with more nuclear capacity waiting to offer an alternative fuel source.

Progress on atomic energy plans, first announced in 2009, has been hampered by falling energy prices and negative public opinion following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

After the Law and Justice Party (PiS) won the last general election in 2015, Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s government dusted the plans off and insisted it wants nuclear power online within ten years.

Westinghouse: Nuclear energy has a great future in Poland

The biggest single market for nuclear energy in Eastern Europe is Poland, says Mike Kirst, an official at Westinghouse, the US multinational providing fuel, services and equipment for the nuclear industry. Polish authorities have spoken of potentially building up to 11 nuclear reactors by 2030, Kirst told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Tchórzewski revealed some details of the government’s plan, explaining that “we would like to build three (nuclear power plant) units in five-year intervals, with the first one coming in 2029”, with costs predicted to reach nearly €6bn.

It is a seemingly odd change of policy from the authorities, given that both Szydło and President Andrzej Duda have gone on record as saying Poland has enough coal for the next two centuries. Poland also relies on coal to provide around 90% of its electricity needs.

But experts have warned for years that the cheapest sources of coal in the Silesian Basin are nearly depleted and that the country’s mining sector will have to prepare for higher costs in the future.

EU initiative to help coal mining regions will start in autumn

The Commission is working on an initiative to support coal mining regions during the transition towards a low-emission economy. EURACTIV Czech Republic reports.

Poland’s heating plants have also reported problems with fuel supply in recent months, which may lead to an increase in coal imports this year and in 2018.

How to actually finance large-scale coal plants has emerged as another problem for Warsaw. Energy holding company Tauron needs large-scale investment in order to modernise old power plants but its ability to invest in coal has been restricted by recent commitments.

Other state power companies are finding themselves increasingly in the same position, which means coal faces an uncertain future in the EU member state most associated with coal power.

Dawn of new EU emissions rules could sound death knell for coal power

New EU rules formally agreed on Monday (31 July) mean power plants will have to cut pollutants, with the cost of compliance estimated to be over €15bn. Environmental groups predict that the logical next step is widespread closures of the most polluting coal-powered plants.

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