Poland Sets Date to Close Europe’s Dirtiest Power Plant

Belchatow Power Station      Photo: Fotopolska.eu, Wiki CC

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

This week, Poland announced it will close the coal-fired Belchatow power plant by the end of 2036. The country’s national energy group opted not to develop an open-pit coal mine to power the plant after deciding it would not make financial sense. The decision comes as Poland’s Lodz region goes through its planning process to access the European Union’s Just Transition Fund, designed for coal regions to get off of polluting fossil fuels. Poland is Europe’s biggest coal producer and stands to receive the biggest share of the EU’s 17.5-billion euro fund, one of several finance mechanisms to help countries shift from coal to clean energy.

Why This Matters: Among EU countries, Poland has been one of the most resistant to transitioning its energy away from coal. It employs about half of the more than 230,000 people working in coal across Europe and only agreed to a timeline for closing all coal plants last year. (By 2049, just one year before Europe is hoping to hit net-zero emissions.) Poland’s decision to close Belchatow shows that the financial mechanisms designed by the EU and playing out in broader energy markets are working: it’s financially smarter to get off of coal than to keep paying to burn it. The EU’s carbon market has soared over the past year, and countries now owe around 50 euros per ton burned — which can add up to hundreds of millions over the course of a year. But its coal miners are protesting nevertheless.

Poland’s Phase-out

The state-owned Polish Energy Group (PGE), the country’s largest power producing company, owns Belchatow and plans to gradually shut down its power units from 2030 to 2036. 

“Scheduling the dates of shutting down the power units of the Belchatow Power Plant… (and) abandoning the plan to exploit the Zloczew deposit are of fundamental importance for planning the future of the Belchatow Complex, its employees and the inhabitants of this region,” Chief Executive Wojciech Dabrowski said in a statement. “They are also symbolic, because the success of this project will largely determine the success of the Polish energy transformation.”

The plan for a broader phase-out by 2049 calls for coal to drop from generating 75% of the country’s electricity, as it does today, to between 37 and 56% by 2030. By the end of the next decade, it should fall again to 11% and 28%. 

Protests By Coal Miners

The AP reported that yesterday morning, four thousand Polish coal mining and power workers protested the gradual phasing out of coal mining imposed by a recent European Union court that will result in the immediate closure of the Turow brown coal mine that feeds the Turow power plant.  The miners argue that Europe’s requirement that the EU shift away from coal, which is a big part of the Polish economy, will eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs in the country.  They also claim that the EU policy makes Poland more dependent on fuel and power imports from Germany and Russia. Coal mining is already declining in Poland — in 1990 there were 70 coal mines and almost 400,000 miners and today, before the EU’s cuts, there are only 20 mines and fewer than 80,000 miners. Environmental groups want Poland to wind down its remaining coal mining and power plants more quickly.

 

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