Poland’s energy policy has to change urgently in the face of the war in Ukraine. EU funds must finance Poland’s transformation for energy security and sustainability. There is no return to the business as usual when it comes to energy policy.
Rafał Rykowski, Krzysztof Mrozek, Polish Green Network | 11 April 2022
The European Commission introduced the REPowerEU communication, outlining an action plan to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels well before 2030, starting with gas. Poland, which is highly dependent on Russian fossil fuels imports, is also looking for a quick alternative. The Polish government announced the amendments to the obsolete energy strategy, the Polish Energy Policy by 2040 (PEP 2040). Their main goal: reducing dependency on fossil fuels from Russia in Poland’s energy policy. Sounds solid, but the devil is in the details.
Reasonable solutions and dead ends
The good news is that Minister of Climate and Environment, Anna Moskwa, told the media that power from renewables will be increased to 50 gigawatts during this decade. And by 2040, we will be producing half of our energy from renewable energy sources (RES). It is a significant shift in the Polish energy policy. This is three times more than the current potential of renewable energy and over 12 gigawatts more than the current power from coal and gas-fueled plants. But to achieve that, we need fewer words and more action.
For a long time, the government has been suspending the development of new onshore wind farm projects – currently the cheapest source of electricity. It resulted in delaying the submission of a draft act aimed at amending the wind energy planning regulation. This regulation sets a radius of ten times the height of the windmill that should be maintained between a wind turbine and the closest residential buildings.
This rule excludes 99.7 per cent of the Polish territory from building new onshore wind farms.
Another problem that may stand in the way of the dynamic development of domestic renewable energy potential, is the insufficient capacity of the energy network when it comes to accepting growing volumes of energy from renewable sources. Therefore urgent investment is needed to make the grid fit-for-purpose in an increasingly decarbonised, decentralised and digitalised power system.
Prime Minister Morawiecki told journalists that he does not want to pay for the expensive Norwegian gas as a substitute for costly Russian gas. We need to replace it with renewable energy sources in the long run. But again, the government plans to spend a big chunk of cohesion funds and recovery plan money on massive gas and roads investments. Around EUR 1.77 billion is allocated for investments related to natural gas under the largest infrastructure, climate and environment programme (FEnIKS).
Poland’s recovery plan is still under risk of rejection due to the rule of law dispute with the EU. In the last available version from almost a year ago, i.e. 30 April 2021, the specific amount earmarked for fossil gas is impossible to determine. However, the draft of the plan suggests that it will dominate investments in district heating and replacement heat sources in residential buildings.
And last but not least, EUR 4.5 billion is allocated under the FEnIKS programme for roads. This will contribute to the increasing dependency on Russian fossil fuels given that 70 per cent of the fuel used in vehicles on Polish roads comes from Russia. Currently, the FEnIKS earmarks only EUR 599 million for renewable energy investments – ten times less than roads and natural gas.
Instead of these measures that will further lock Poland into fossil fuels dependance, we need thought-out and systemic investments in renewable energy sources, modern distribution networks and new energy storage facilities.
There are still no renewable energy-based energy communities in Poland that are more resilient and flexible than a centralised energy system in a crisis or war. They would be a great addition to Polish energy security, but our law still blocks their development, despite the EU law requirements.
But most of all, we need to reduce the amount of energy consumed. Poland’s crucial problem is energy inefficiency. We need investments in energy savings and increased energy efficiency, including massive renovations of buildings, as well as we need investments in clean transport, circular economy and decarbonisation of industry.
Nearly sixty Polish civil society organisations concerned with state’s dependence on Russian fuels, wrote a statement and requested that the Polish government and the European Commission direct EU funds into a green transition in Poland. The stream of European money has to be channelled in the right direction, to redirect sources from gas and road construction.
We have received EUR 140 billion funds for Poland in recovery and cohesion funds along with the Modernisation Fund. According to the European Commission, over thirty per cent should go to climate action. This time, climate action is tightly connected to gaining energy security and sustainability from Russian gas.
Although we do not have the benefit of time, we should not forget about democracy and transparency.
Green transformation must be inclusive and participatory.
Meanwhile, the new implementation law (regulating spending of cohesion and recovery funds) introduced by the government sets new rules for monitoring committees, effectively blocking independent civil society organisations from overseeing the implementation and monitoring of these EU funds. The increased risk of corruption and particular political interests may derail the green transformation efforts due to the lack of that independent scrutiny.
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Institution: EU funds
Theme: Recovery Plans | RRF | EU Recovery Fund | Energy | Green transition