The president and the parliamentary majority have recently taken two decisions that will significantly influence the development of the renewable energy industry in Poland. Although at the outset these legal changes seemed promising, their consequences now appear bound to be negative. Michał Olszewski explains.
One of the first legal acts signed by President Andrzej Duda was the so-called law against smog. It has provided local authorities with more efficient tools for fighting air pollution, which is terribly high in many places in Poland. As a result, local authorities may now determine which fuel and heating appliances can be used in a given municipality, district or province. Local governments have also been granted the right to introduce transition periods in order to prepare local communities for the changes. Whether or not they will use these tools is another issue. Anyone hoping that the president will show an understanding of ecology-related issues will have a bitter pill to swallow.
Andrzej Duda has also signed the so-called act against wind turbines, which was drafted by the Law and Justice party (PiS) and will hinder the development of this sector. The act against wind turbines imposes a number of restrictions on producers of wind energy (except for micro installations and offshore wind farms). This brings into question whether they will be able to make the investments that appear necessary given the dire state of the large-scale energy sector in Poland. It will still be possible to build new wind farms; however, the minimum distance from buildings and protected areas should be at least ten times the height of a turbine (including blades). In densely populated areas of Poland it will be virtually impossible to meet these conditions. The restrictions will also affect investors who intend to expand existing installations as only repair works are permitted. The law also raises the taxation of wind farms.
Given Poland’s energy needs, and also wider global trends, this step backwards is unexpected. What seems to motivate it? Firstly, prominent Law and Justice politicians have repeatedly raised serious objections to wind energy, claiming it is supported by a lobby of German manufacturers seeking markets for their wind turbines. Secondly, Law and Justice wants to impede the growth of dispersed energy generation, considering it a threat to the traditional model based on hard coal and lignite. Over recent months it has become clear that the new authorities in Poland will consistently support extractive industries and coal power, even if it is not financially viable. The law was signed by Andrzej Duda on 22 June 2016.
Several days later, an amendment was passed to the act on renewable energy sources that had been adopted by the previous parliament after many years of effort and discussion. Environmentalists had greeted the law with high hopes as it provided for a number of facilitations and incentives for prosumers. It was hoped that the owners of single-family houses would be able to produce energy for their own use and then sell surplus energy to the grid, a solution that both energy companies and transmission system operators were apprehensive of. However, PiS has decided to go back to square one: the support for prosumers has been reduced so that the generation of energy will become unprofitable. Law and Justice focuses on the co-firing of coal and forest biomass in large-scale installations, an approach that is widely criticised as a renewable energy source that has little in common with environmental protection.
For Polish energy policy, these laws signify a step backwards.
Instead of trying to find solutions that would facilitate the growth of local dispersed energy generation, the authorities are adopting solutions from several decades ago. A paradox observed in southern Poland illustrates how risky this approach is: Połaniec is one of the power plants that will benefit from the amendment as it has invested in the construction of installations used for co-firing. Yet as a result of dry summers, the water level in the Vistula River is decreasing – this hinders access to water needed for cooling and the efficient functioning of the power plant. It is somewhat ironic that Polish citizens will probably pay for the government’s distrust of renewable energy and its support for the coal industry with a blackout.
Michał Olszewski (born 1977) – journalist, reporter, writer. For more than twelve years he worked for Gazeta Wyborcza and Tygodnik Powszechny, where he concentrated mostly on environmental issues. He is engaged in a Krakow-based campaign against air pollution.