People power having major impact on Kulczyk’s coal power plans
Bankwatch Mail | 14 May 2014
Local community and NGO pressure has been making things rather difficult of late for the largest planned new coal-fired power plant in Europe.
This article is from Issue 59 of our quarterly newsletter Bankwatch Mail
Elektrownia Pólnoc (‘North’ Power Plant), planned for development in the northern Polish village of Rajkowy, is the flagship project of Polenergia – a company owned by Kulczyk Investments. With a projected 2 GW capacity, 4.6 million tons of coal due to be burned and 9.4 million tons of CO2 emitted per year (over a lifetime of at least 35 years), Elektrownia Pólnoc would be catastrophic for the climate, would increase Poland’s deep dependence on coal and have major impacts on environmental and social well-being in the unique region of Pomerania.
To assist with overall costs thought to be in the region of EUR 3 billion, the company has sought – in 2011 – European public finance from the EBRD and EIB, with none forthcoming to date. Most importantly, however, strong opposition to the project has resulted in several setbacks that have moved the original construction start date back from 2012 to 2019 at the earliest, it is widely believed. And financing for the project is believed to be on increasingly shaky ground.
Planned to reach 185 metres in height, the Goliath plant would become a starkly dominant feature in the flat, agricultural surrounds of Pomerania, a region most noted for its folklore, architecture and dialect. Associated pipelines, roads, railway and electricity transmission lines would further disfigure the landscape.
The water, soil and air pollution caused by emissions from burning coal at the plant would take a heavy toll on human health and agriculture, which remains the main source of income for many families in the region. Yet it is the local wildlife that would be impacted most acutely.
The Elektrownia Pólnoc site is surrounded by several wildlife reserves and EU designated Natura 2000 sites. The most precious of these is undoubtedly the Vistula River – the largest river in Poland and one of the last major European rivers to have maintained its natural character.
The Lower Vistula is home to many rare plant and animal species and a crucial wildlife corridor of international importance. Independent expert opinions have shown that the impact of the anticipated thermal and chemical pollution discharged from the power plant into the river would be disastrous for the Vistula’s precious wildlife. Among other things, pollution from heavy metals and toxic biocides (substances used for sterilizing the plant’s cooling system) would pose serious threats to the entire ecosystem.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Elektrownia Pólnoc has met with strenuous resistance from a group of local citizens concerned that executing the project in a region of unique cultural and natural values would lead to its degradation, if not worse.
An investment process that has been flawed from the outset has, with assistance from other Polish NGOs, been consistently challenged and, as a result, partially improved. A particular campaign landmark saw the General Director of Environmental Protection ruling that the power plant’s environmental impact assessment permit was partially invalid, and a string of other vital procedural issues have sprung up to put realisation of the power plant increasingly in doubt.
Significantly, too, the international community has been voicing concern about the impact of the project on climate and wildlife.
As part of an ongoing action of sending letters to Elektrownia Pólnoc investor Jan Kulczyk, also the Chairman of Green Cross International’s Board of Directors and a Member of the Climate Change Task Force, concerned correspondents have requested that Kulczyk withdraws from this investment and instead focuses his attention on Poland’s under-developed renewable energy sector. The letters remain unanswered.