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Poland’s “illegal” coal-fired power plant

World Coal,

Euro MPs (MEPS) and environmentalists have urged the European Commission to prevent Poland building two new 900 MW units at a coal-fired power plant, which they claim violates EU laws on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

The Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, said the units would be built at the coal-fired power plant in Opole, estimating the cost would be €2.7 billion.

CCS ready

MEPs claim the proposed units at the Opole plant have not been assessed for CCS-readiness, as required by an EU directive that Warsaw currently faces infringement proceedings for defying.

Emissions from Opole are expected to top 1.5 billion t of CO2 over the next 55 years and could prevent Poland from meeting its target of generating 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, according to a study by the Polish Climate Coalition (PCC).

Polish coal crisis

Poland relies heavily on coal for its energy, with a current installed capacity of 37 GW. However, decreasing coal prices have significantly impacted the company.

The EU’s Large Combustion Plants Directive (LCPD) has compounded the effect of the weak coal market. Polish grid operator PSE expects 6.6 GW of energy capacity will be taken offline as a result of the LCPD.

Further to this, extraction costs of coal in Poland are rising. Domestic coal is therefore more expensive than imported coal available from countries, such as the US.

Poland and the EU

Any Polish success in facing down Brussels on the issue could affect the fate of other European climate laws, which the country has not ratified, such as the renewable energy and emissions trading directives.

Jo Leinen, a Socialist (S&D) MEP, told EurActiv that the proposed build at Opole was “illegal” and should not take place without adequate modern standards for climate protection. “It is very urgent that the commission gets puts some pressure on the Polish authorities to follow EU rules,” he said.

“Opole is a test case for whether [EU] policies are valid or existing only on paper.” Leinen and five other MEPs from five political groups last month tabled parliamentary questions on the issue to the EU's climate action commissioner, Connie Hedegaard.

The Polish government says that tighter emissions controls require it to shut down or upgrade old polluting coal-fired plants by 2016 and so new capacity is needed to prevent power shortages. But the PCC study found that renewable energy on the Opole plant’s 1.8 GW blocks would produce 60% more energy, while reducing carbon emissions six-fold.

Carbon compromise

The carbon compromise between coal and renewables – CCS technology – has not yet been embraced by Polish authorities.  Poland is the only EU state not to have notified the European Commission of any measures it has taken to comply with the CCS directive, which compels space for future technology to be left vacant next to any new coal plants.

Two years ago, the commission launched infringement proceedings against Polandas. However, Tusk has made new construction at Opole a litmus of his energy policy and confrontation with Brussels seems likely. “The government will find the funds and a way for this investment to be carried out,” Tusk said.

Poland’s Supreme Court has ruled that Opole's extension was legal, because the government had not written the CCS directive onto national statute.

The Opole project

Last April, Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), pulled out of the power plant project at Opole, citing concerns about its profitability.

However, as recently reported by World Coal, Kompania Weglowa has recently signed an agreement with PGE to supply coal for the power plant, making the proposed project economically feasible.

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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