Poland Mulls Energy Future

Resource-rich Poland’s push to prioritize coal as its main energy source and to cultivate a nuclear power program to boost energy security at the expense of climate objectives has provoked its portrayal within the European Union (EU) as an energy renegade.

This September, however, Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a long-time proponent of free markets, privatization, and minimal government interference, was elected the European Council’s next president. Tusk will head the forum where EU heads of state meet to set the bloc’s political direction (but do not have the power to pass laws) starting on Dec. 1. The event has left experts pondering how the leader’s fierce opposition to climate policy and development of renewable sources and advocacy for shale gas will affect EU policy. Some conclude he may have influence over the EU’s overall climate policy trajectory, but several more argue that his sway may be limited to securing concessions for Poland, which is opposed to EU climate targets.

The country’s Ministry of Economy in August unveiled a draft energy plan for the country through 2050 that lays out three future energy mix scenarios. One is highly dependent on the country’s coal resources and infrastructure, another foresees nuclear accounting for 45% to 60% of the energy mix (Poland has no operating nuclear plants, though two are in development), and the third would reduce coal’s share from the current 88% (Figure 1) down to 30%, with domestically produced shale gas, renewables, and oil making up the difference. The first two scenarios limit renewables’ share to 15%.

1. Heavy on coal. Poland’s energy sector is historically based on coal, and Poland has the ninth-largest deposits in the world. Hard coal and lignite produced nearly 90% of the central European country’s power in 2012. Source: Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency

Significantly, the plan comes just weeks before EU leaders are expected to finalize the 27-country bloc’s 2030 climate and energy framework. For 2030, the EU framework has proposed a 40% greenhouse gas–reduction target that is binding at the nation-state level and may not be met by carbon offsets, and a 27% renewable energy target that is binding at an aggregate European level but which will be voluntary for individual member states. The European Council (not to be confused with the Council of the European Union, one of the body’s legislatures) is next scheduled to meet on Oct. 23.

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)