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Ban on coal from Russia has Poland scrambling

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-08-24 09:19

Smoke and steam billows from Belchatow Power Station, Europe's largest coal-fired power plant operated by PGE Group, near Belchatow, Poland, Nov 28, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

A government ban on coal trade with Russia has left Poland scrambling to find new sources, with concerns mounting that there will be a winter heating crisis.

In April, Poland's government responded to the outbreak of conflict between Russia and Ukraine by banning imports of Russian coal, cutting one of the country's main supply networks, reported the Financial Times.

Poland is the European Union's largest coal producer, and is dependent on the fuel for some 80 percent of its electricity generation, reported Reuters.

The nation bought Russian coal for about 40 percent of the fuel it needed to heat homes. Its abundant domestic supply, which is of lower quality, is used mainly for industrial use such as in power stations.

DW News reported that Poland is now hurriedly seeking alternative supplies from producers in Australia, Indonesia, Colombia, and South Africa, but is finding only limited help is available, and logistics have proven challenging.

Reuters noted that Poland imported more than 8.8 million metric tons of Russian coal in 2021 but the country's shortfall is as high as 12.1 million meric tons due to declining local production.

Germany and other EU nations have had more time to stockpile Russian coal as an EU-wide ban on Russian coal trade only came into force this month, noted the FT.

The price of coal in Poland has tripled from an average of nearly 1,000 zlotys ($208) per ton last year to more than 3,000 zlotys per ton, the British newspaper noted.

Emergency subsidies have been approved by Poland's Parliament for the one-third of homes that use coal, and government officials have instructed state-owned companies to buy an additional 5 million metric tons of coal to supply households.

Quality standards for the burning of coal for home heating have been suspended, raising concerns from environmentalists. Poland recently agreed to meet EU climate change goals, and the mining industry agreed to close all coal mines by 2049.

The country had the EU's most polluted air, according to a 2020 study by the European Environment Agency. Burning coal or wood in the home increases the chance of developing a respiratory disease by one-third, research from Warsaw's Institute for Structural Research showed.

Piotr Siergiej, a spokesperson for environmental group Polish Smog Alert, told Germany's DW News there has been a lack of strategic long-term planning in the sector, with the government acting "chaotic and ad hoc, from wood burning to subsidies."

"The decision of the government to introduce an embargo on coal imports from Russia in April was not preceded by analyses. Politicians did not realize that coal supplies to households cannot be replaced quickly and easily," he said.

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