The Polish Wind Energy Association (PWEA) is battling to save the coal-reliant country’s burgeoning onshore wind sector from falling into long-term decline.
Amid controversial government proposals that could drastically slash the number of onshore turbines, in its latest intervention, the PWEA has called on Poland’s government to increase the maximum amount of onshore wind capacity it has pencilled in for auction this year from 1.5GW to 2.5GW, to avoid squandering the country’s enormous renewable energy potential.
Polish wind developers currently hold a total of around 3GW of ready-to-build onshore wind projects, and have already spent around PLN2-3bn (€500m-700m) to develop that potential, according to PWEA president Janusz Gajowiecki.
Raising the auction capacity for wind would also contribute to Poland’s binding EU target to meet 15 per cent of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020, which it is currently in danger of missing, he argued.
“Therefore, we recommend increasing the next year’s contracting to approximately 2.5 GW,” he said.
The move comes before the close of a crucial consultation this week on the Polish government’s draft 2040 energy strategy, which includes plans to almost entirely scrap the country’s existing onshore wind capacity over the next two decades.
Under the draft national energy policy, the government, which is led by the staunchly conservative Law and Justice Party, is proposing to phase out almost all existing wind farms by 2035, without replacing them with new turbines.
Instead, it plans to focus on sourcing low carbon power from offshore wind and nuclear instead. Over 10GW of offshore wind capacity and 6-9GW of new nuclear would be built in Poland by 2040, according to the draft plan.
The focus on offshore wind and nuclear is likely to be welcomed given the country’s continued reliance on coal power and scepticism in some quarters over the government’s commitment to climate action and clean tech investment. However, critics warn that effectively shuttering the onshore wind sector will make it far harder and more costly for the country to decarbonise.
Today onshore wind is Poland’s largest renewable energy source with almost 5.9GW of capacity. But with no plans to hold further auctions for new onshore wind power beyond that already slated for this year, Poland’s onshore wind capacity could plummet from around 7GW in 2025 to just 800MW in 2040 under the draft strategy.
The proposed squeeze on onshore wind is being driven by “political commitments” to keep some members of the ruling Law and Justice party who are opposed to onshore wind farms onside, according to Polish energy news site WysokieNapiecie.pl.
Green groups have fiercely criticised the plan, which comes despite rapidly falling costs of developing onshore wind across Europe that have made the technology the cheapest form of new generation available in many regions.
The PWEA said it was “very concerned” about the government’s draft plan, which it said “does not take into account the current development of onshore wind or technological progress it has made in recent years”. It argued both onshore and offshore wind should have a place in the future mix.
“Both technologies open an opportunity to increase the competitiveness of the economy, decrease environmental impact of the energy sector, optimally use own energy resources and decrease electricity prices for final customers,” PWEA said in a statement provided to BusinessGreen.
The draft Energy Policy of Poland 2040 was released for consultation at the end of November, just before the COP24 international climate conference – which was hosted by Poland in Katowice – at which the country’s heavy reliance on coal power came under intense scrutiny.
Polish energy minister Krzysztof Tchórzewski has been a vocal advocate of the continued use of coal power in the country, which in 2017 met 78 per cent of its electricity demand. The draft strategy would only see a marginal decrease in coal generation before 2030.
Proposals to drastically cut back on onshore wind are in part a reflection of fears over local opposition to onshore wind farms and the reaction of the coal industry and miners, according to the PWEA.
The industry body said there were “still many myths” about onshore wind in Poland regarding the technology’s costs and efficiency. “That is why politicians want rather to develop offshore wind farms nowadays,” the PWEA statement said. “They think that it would create less social conflicts because of NIMBY syndrome everywhere in the world.”
However, it said it remained confident Polish policymakers could soften their stance in view of the rapidly declining costs of onshore wind development. It pointed to recent comments from deputy energy minister Grzegorz Tobiszowski suggesting onshore wind could still play a key part in the future energy mix if the price was right, and projects could operate without subsidy support – something many advocates of onshore wind think is increasingly likely.
Nevertheless, Gajowiecki, PWEA’s president, said Poland should look to increase its ambition on wind power, arguing the country was capable of hosting 12.3GW of onshore wind and 12-14GW of offshore wind by 2030. This could help cut CO2 emissions from 125 million tonnes today to 94 million tonnes in 2030.
Moreover, the PWEA believes onshore wind capacity in Poland “will survive no matter what” is in the final energy strategy, arguing the country’s newest existing wind farms should still be technically capable of operating beyond the phase-out date.
It remains to be seen whether the drastic onshore wind measures set out in Poland’s draft energy strategy emerge intact after the consultation closes on 15 January. But the wind row highlights how much influence coal continues to wield over Polish politics.