Poland Sets Date to Close Europe's Dirtiest Power Plant

Poland Coal Belchatow Power Station

This week, Poland announced it will close the coal-fired Belchatow Power Station 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. Of the 230,000 people working in coal across Europe -- Poland employs about half and only last year agreed to a timeline for closing all coal plants. The year will be 2049 -- just one year before Europe hopes 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 (4 out of 5 EU coal plants are unprofitable) 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.

Union of Concerned Scientists: Everything to Know About Coal (in Under 3 Minutes), January 4, 2018.

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. Chief Executive Wojciech Dabrowski said in a statement:

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 … 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 the morning of June 9, 2021, 4,000 Polish coal mining and power workers protested the gradual phasing out of coal mining imposed by a recent EU court that will result in the immediate closure of the Turow brown coal mine that feeds the Turow Power Station. The miners argue that the EU's 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 the EU policy makes Poland more dependent on fuel and power imports from Germany and Russia. Coal mining is and was already declining in Poland -- in 1990 there were 70 coal mines and almost 400,000 miners. 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 even more quickly.

Center for Strategic & International Studies: Charting a Path for Just Transitions, March 10, 2021