10 May 2024, 15:00
Wojciech Jakóbik

Dispatch from Poland

Credit: Grand-Warszawski, Shutterstock.

Poland saw a change in power last autumn when a pro-EU coalition led by former European Council president Donald Tusk took over after eight years of rule by the right-wing populist Law and Justice party (PiS). Since then, however, the country’s new government has failed to reach a significant number of decisions about the energy sector’s transition – despite ambitious plans – and progress could be further hampered by the ongoing election cycle.

***Our weekly Dispatches provide an overview of the most relevant recent and upcoming developments for the shift to climate neutrality in selected European countries, from policy and diplomacy to society and industry.

For a bird's-eye view of the country's climate-friendly transition, read the respective 'Guide to'.***

EU election focus

  • Poland in the middle of an election cycle - Poland’s local elections on 7 April were won by the opposition Law and Justice party led by Jarosław Kaczyński (34% percent of votes for Provincial Assemblies) followed by Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform (31%) and the Third Way coalition led by Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz and Szymon Hołownia (14%), Confederation and non-partisans (7%), and The Left (6%). The result means a slight loss for the country’s ruling coalition (Civic Platform, Third Way, The Left) and the next test is set to follow soon when Polish citizens take part in the European Elections on 6-9 June 2024. Anti-European forces inside Law and Justice and Confederation are weaponizing criticism of the European Green Deal to win over  undecided voters. Even moderate politicians, such as Polska 2050’s Szymon Hołownia, has declared his opposition to a new combustion engine car tax in a bid to woo voters from right-wing parties. The sense of a rise in scepticism towards the European Green Deal is hard to escape. A recent survey showed decreasing support for the process of further European integration and green deal as one of the reasons of discontent (10 percent of surveyed Poles). The final step in the election cycle will be the presidential elections in May 2025.
  • European Green Deal target in EU elections campaign in Poland A growing number of Poles are increasingly unhappy with the EU integration, according to a poll from 24 April. Seventy-seven percent of surveyed Poles support the country’s EU membership, down from 92 percent in June 2022 and 85 percent in April 2023. People’s concerns about EU membership ranged from limited sovereignty (21 percent), the need to adjust Polish law to European regulation (15 percent), to the European Green Deal (10 percent). The main opposition party Law and Justice has put a focus on European climate policy in its election campaign. Its leader Jarosław Kaczyńki declared that abolishing the European Green Deal, and making changes to migration regulations were among the main goals of his party. Discussions about the energy transition have featured prominently in public debates in Poland because of the energy crunch and economic consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This makes the European Green Deal a key issue in the final weeks of the election campaign.

Stories to watch in the weeks ahead

  • Nuclear strategy update on the horizon – The government has announced ‘audits’ in multiple state projects including the Polish Nuclear Energy Program (PNEP). These could lead to personnel changes and generally mean a review of strategies inside the state-owned enterprises. The PNEP states that Poland wants to have its first nuclear reactor in operation by 2033, with a total generation capacity of 6–9 GW by 2043. The role of nuclear energy is to provide the electricity sector with baseload generation to safely develop renewable energy. Poland is officially treating nuclear energy as an energy transition tool. According to the PNEP, 'nuclear energy is to play an important role in limiting climate change and ensuring energy security in the meantime.' The fate of small modular reactor (SMR) proposals from GE Hitachi, NuScale Power and others is still unclear. The ministry of climate and environment is considering to draft a separate SMR strategy, instead of updating the nuclear energy programme (PNEP).Nuclear energy also receives widespread public backing, with 83 percent support for nuclear energy in a recent poll.
  • Nuclear update 2 – In the meantime, talks on a financing scheme – probably through contracts for difference – for the first Polish nuclear power plant in Pomerania continue. Construction of the project was initially set to start in 2026 but the nuclear programme’s audit could change the schedule. The project is being developed by state-owned Polskie Elektrownie Jądrowe alongside US partners Bechtel and Westinghouse. The audit was initially scheduled to be finished in April 2024 but the deadline was not met. Independent analysts say that the first reactor is set to go online by 2035 or later (instead of the planned 2033), due to delays at multiple stages.
  • Changing the packaging, not the content, of the coal assets reform – The separation of Polish coal assets from energy companies is being assessed by the ministry of state assets in cooperation with the industry ministry. Polska Grupa Energetyczna, Tauron, Enea and Energa say they are unable to finance the energy transition without ditching coal assets because financial and insurance groups are refusing to work with entities which have a large portion of fossil fuels in their portfolio. The four energy companies listed above are responsible for around 70 percent of electricity production in Poland so securing their future is crucial when it comes to energy prices and social acceptance of the energy transition. How the separation of coal assets plays out hinges largely on whether the new ruling coalition presses ahead with reforms of the Narodowa Agencja Bezpieczeństwa Energetycznego (state agency for coal assets) or chooses to present a new proposal. Critics claim that the government plans to simply rebadge the reforms – to go ahead with them under the guise of a new name. Government officials warn that Poland needs coal-based generation subsidies beyond 2028 to back up intermittent renewable supplies while the country’s first nuclear power plant is constructed.
  • Windfarms liberalisation promise – Poland has not yet liberalised rules for onshore wind power plant locations. A new law supported by the Polish wind sector aimed at decreasing the allowed distance from 700 metres to 500 metres from residential areas is to be consulted and proposed by the government in June 2024. This could become a campaign issue in the European elections.

The latest from Poland – last month in recap

  • First Recovery Plan payment – Poland received its first payment from the EU Recovery Plan, consisting of 6.3 billion euros, on 15 April. The payment ended a deadlock which saw the funds frozen amid EU concerns about judicial independence and democracy in Poland under the former government. Poland can now begin spending, having earmarked 199 million euros from the first payment for reducing smog in the cities by subsidising the phase-out from fossil fuels-based heating. The ministry of climate and environment wants to use around 25 billion euros from Poland’s total share of almost 60 billion euros to boost the energy transition. Ultimately, though, the scope and pace of spending depends on the decisions by the government, and the effectiveness of the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. This is Poland’s so-called green bank in charge of managing state subsidies for the energy transition. Poland’s total of 59.8 billion euros is made up of 25.27 billion euros in grants and 34.54 billion euros in loans. For comparison, budget expenditures planned in Poland in 2024 are around 200 billion euros.
  • Reducing energy prices subsidiesPoland decided to reduce energy crunch subsidies. Until now, the country has energy and natural gas price caps for every household. The cap is to be increased from around 412 to 500 zł (around 95 euros to 125 euros) per MWh (excluding VAT and excise duty). The new regulation will also introduce an energy voucher in the form of a one-time supplement for the poorest households.

Wojciech’s picks – highlights from upcoming events and top reads

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