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Coal exit “not realistic” by 2030, says Poland’s top power producer

Warsaw, Poland – Poland may take up to 25 years to completely exit and phase out coal use in electricity generation, according to state-owned Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), which is longer than the transition the European Union is seeking in its bid to zero out greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

For the EU to remain within its carbon budget, as outlined by the Paris Agreement, analysis suggests that member states should completely shut down all existing coal-fired power plants by 2030.

“Coal exit in Poland is not realistic by 2030,” however claims PGE’s Chief Executive Officer Wojciech Dabrowski. “But in 20 to 25 years it is, with the support of the EU, we do realize that we need to do it.”

The country’s top power producer, which generates about 40% of the country’s electricity, is unable to move faster because of technological constraints, job concerns and lack of financing, continues Dabrowski, adding that the company expects the EU to help mobilize green investment, as the coronavirus pandemic leads the bloc into a deep recession.

Poland’s coal reliance has put the country at odds with the EU’s goal to reach climate neutrality.

Can Poland truly exit coal?

Although Poland has significantly reduced its share of coal in power generation in recent years, the country still relies on the fossil fuel for generating more than 70% of its electricity and is the only EU member not to abide by the the bloc’s mid-century deadline to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

But with around 400.000 people working in the industry throughout the country, and households highly dependent on the cheap, often low grade coal to heat their houses during cold winter months, Poland’s leaders are reluctant to plan any official phase-out in the near future.

This led the government to recently cross swords with the French government over comments made by the French President Emmanuel Macron criticizing Warsaw’s lack of commitment to tackling climate change.

While Poland’s Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski claimed last year that it was “a fantasy” to try to reach net zero emissions by 2050, a recent World Wildlife Fund (WWF) study has shown that Poland’s path to climate neutrality and zero net emissions is both “affordable and feasible”.

Poland will be the top beneficiary of the €100-billion EU climate fund meant to help coal-reliant regions move away from fossil fuels and towards a greener economy and more sustainable energy mix.

Poland’s Bełchatów Power Station is Europe’s biggest coal-fired power plant and the fourth fourth largest fossil-fuel power station in the world. Credit: Wikipedia

Phasing out coal and limiting global warming

By signing the Paris Agreement, the EU has joined the international community in officially committing to the goal of limiting global warming to “well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

For the EU to achieve this goal, it will need to rapidly decarbonise its power sector, and phasing out coal in the electricity sector is one of the most cost-effective methods to achieve emissions reductions. 

Germany and Poland alone are jointly responsible for 51% of the EU’s installed coal capacity and 54% of emissions from coal.

Owned by PGE, Poland’s Bełchatów Power Station, situated near near Łódź, is Europe’s biggest coal-fired power plant and the fourth largest fossil-fuel power station in the world.

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