Bad COP 19 host issues aside, a major point of contention amongst many in the international community right now are the changes Poland is making to its renewable energy support schemes. The most glaring of which is the plan to construct an electronic barrier to deny the energy from neighboring Germancy onto the Polish grid.
By installing equipment known as phase-shifters on transmission links, Poland is able to block excess renewables output from Germany, allowing only home-grown energy for consumption. This keeps wholesale prices up and profits high for the State, and serves to protect the economic interests of its incumbent, centralized, and overwhelmingly coal-reliant energy grid.
While many of their EU peers are creating decentralized, renewables-based energy grids, Poland’s recent efforts take the opposite approach, maintaining the status-quo of the 20th Century.
“We should be making the connections bigger, and opening the market up, not closing it,” says Grzegorz Wisniewski, of the Institute for Renewable Energy.
The changes have been a few years in the making, due in most part to a lack of policy support and a misleading energy scheme that encourages generators to burn biomass (co-firing) as a way to generate green credits. What has resulted is stalled development of renewables and an even greater amount of power for the traditional utility companies.
Even further, the government recently announced that it is replacing its quota process with that of an auctioning system – which is almosst guaranteed to favour the large utilities at the expense of independent power operators.
None of this bodes well for green energy in Central Europe. “This is the worst time in 25 years in Poland for renewables,” Wisniewski says. “This government is doing everything it can not to implement the EU directives.”
Unfortunately, this is expected when the coal industry is given such primacy within the country. WWF calculates that 95 billion zlotys (around $130 billion) of subsidies since 1995 have gone to coal, but Poland’s coal reserves are declining rapidly. The country already imports 15 per cent of its coal needs, much of this from Siberia, and Experts say that within 20 years, the country could be entirely reliant on imports because its own reserves would be too expensive to be economically viable.
With a right-wing government in power, and those even further on that side of the spectrum looking to gain power in the next election cycle, it seems that the environment is simply not of a concern to the government.
Krzysztof Tyszkiewicz, a recently retired MP and member of Tusk’s party, says there are few pro-renewable MPs in parliament. “The environmental issue is not important in Poland,” he says.
This is in stark contrast with the majority of the EU, and is surprising considering the issues they will have with their own coal reserves in the coming years. The citizens of Poland benefit from lower prices, which I am sure they are not objecting to en masse, but they will lose big when it comes to their health and the future competitive advantage.
Simply put, the Poles are playing defense right now. In a time where being proactive and collaborative with regard to energy development is vital, Poland is looking inward and allowing the utility and coal industry to dictate energy policy. They must look out for number one, but. Their strategy seems predicated more on fear and special interests, than pragmatism, and this needs to change.
Fortunately, Poland has proven to be resiliant, strong, loyal, and hard-working. All they need to do is change this policy of fear and transform it into a pragmatic foundation for sustainable success. They have so much to offer the world, but closing themselves off benefits no one.