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6 kwietnia 2020

How PGE Turów uses shock

...and mocks our neighbours. Case study - by Hanna Schudy

In these difficult times, we trust that after the crisis, the approach to scientists, doctors and risk analysts will change. However, nothing changes by itself. Because already during the epidemic, the authorities and energy companies are introducing "Machiavellian" solutions. Let us remember, however, that Machiavelli's Italy is a land of prosperity, not of a disease and climate disaster.

The pandemic has distracted Poles from issues such as climate disaster and energy transformation. When we focus on survival and fear does not allow for deeper breathing, behind our backs the government makes decisions undermining our future and good international relations.

For several days on the Internet you can find out that the Minister of Climate (sic!) has issued a license for further lignite mining in the Turów opencast. I understand the joy of the energy company employees - after all, no one from the government or the company talks to them about what will be "after coal" in Bogatynia, a town built on the employment monopoly. So let's analyse the PGE’s arguments regarding the "success" of the issued license (https://pgegiek.pl/aktualnosci/kopalnia-turow-bedzie-mogla-kontynuowac-eksploatacje-w-zmniejszonych-granicach-obszaru-gorniczej):

  1. The PGE Group declares that it has been granted an extension of the existing license for another six years, and at the same time is still applying for a new license that will allow coal mining and combustion at Turów power plant until 2044. 

It should be noted that:

  • the company has been granted permission to use the old license, even though it expires in April 2020. Lawyers dealing with this matter on behalf of ecological organizations as well as residents of the Czech Republic, Germany and of course Poland, do not have access to this document,
  • if PGE still insists that it intends to burn lignite by 2044, then it is quitting the European Union's Green Deal. Izabela Zygmunt, expert from Polish Green Network and Bankwatch on climate policy and just transition, reminds: " In this way, PGE actually deprives the Bogatynia region of development opportunities or even chances to prepare for and mitigate the social effects of the economic shock that will fall on this area, if economics force the company to abandon its plan of coal mining and burning in the next decades. Such a scenario is very likely, because the production of energy from coal is already less and less profitable and it should be expected that in the context of EU energy policy it will lose any justification long before 2044".  
  1. PGE maintains that the decision to issue the license is "good news for nearly 15,000 employees, both those employed in the Turoszów complex and in all companies cooperating with the mine and the power plant."

The number of people employed in PGE and cooperating companies seems to be overstated. We would like see accurate data showing how many people work in the energy complex, and how many, for example, lose jobs because of the energy company - due to environmental and health costs, or also due to the lack of security in the Bogatynia commune. Although drug scandals in Bogatynia and the activities of an organized criminal group in its territory do not have to be associated with the employment monopoly or with the connections of power and police with the company, nevertheless criminal scandals in Bogatynia resonate poorly with the vision of a wealthy commune, presented by PGE.

The expertise prepared by prof. Jan Popczyk regarding the energy transition shows that the transition to green jobs in this energy region is possible and will provide more jobs than is currently provided by the Turów complex. In addition, the alleged 15,000 employees are still half the number of the 30,000 who may lose access to drinking water due to the open pit. Radosław Gawlik, president of EKO-UNIA - an association that is seeking the region's energy transformation - says: "The government must finally have the courage to plan the option of shutting down the Turów Power Plant and Mine. Maybe it will happen after 6 years of the extended license. Detailed analysis of prof. Jan Popczyk assumes that the 100% renewable option is possible and gives twice as many jobs in the case of the Turów Complex and 3 times more in the case of the Lower Silesian Voivodeship. The research was conducted by prof. Jan Popczyk and dr Krzysztof Bógek from the Silesian University of Technology and the Public Platform Of Energy Transformation (www.ppte2050.pl) "

  1. PGE, and more specifically Robert Ostrowski (for several days the former president of the management board of PGE GiEK) claims that electricity produced from lignite means energy security for "millions of Polish families".

Given that electricity prices from conventional energy sources will continue to rise, and Poland is already importing 'sunny' and 'windy' electricity from Germany today, the position of the president seems unjustified - especially as a rather slower economic growth is expected in the near future. Talking about the safety of lignite-derived electricity, especially in times of climate crisis and the epidemic of coronavirus, seems to use the shock method to introduce extremely "toxic" solutions.

  1. PGE also claims that the project evaluation procedures were "comprehensive"

"As part of the licensing process, a detailed environmental report has been developed that includes analyses of the expected impact and, above all, identifying the necessary measures to minimize the potential impact of the business. – Replies were given to several thousand submitted comments and motions, and the participants in the proceedings, as well as persons interested in it, obtained the necessary information on all matters raising doubts."

This sentence is not true. The environmental report has never been carried out in "detail" and "necessary" answers to questions "raising doubts" have never been given. The investor did not answer such questions at the administrative hearing in Bogatynia in 2019, where residents and politicians from the Czech Republic were booed by Bogatynia miners. It was this decisive drop in the cup of bitterness that caused the Hetman of the Liberec Region and the Czech Ministry of the Environment to clearly sharpen their position against Poland.

Importantly, on March 20, 2020 the German border town of Zittau issued an official position that, despite PGE's assurances, public consultation regarding the environmental impact report is ongoing in Germany until March 27. The city of Zittau also says that it did not receive any investor’s answers to the questions sent in September 2019. Importantly, the consultation concerned the extension of the license until 2044, and the currently issued permit concerns the extension of the license for 6 years. The mayor of Zittau says that this workaround means all the more so that for city residents, agreeing to extend the license until 2044 will be at least "questionable." https://zittau.de/de/node/239630

  1. "The Regional Director for Environmental Protection in Wrocław, after conducting the environmental impact assessment procedure, imposes specific obligations on the Turów Mine in the decision on environmental conditions, including the implementation of investments minimizing its impact on the environment."

To date, PGE has not provided accurate data on mercury emissions from the Turów power plant and mine. However, we know that in the case of another power plant belonging to PGE - Bełchatów - mercury emissions, despite the implemented modernizations, are still increasing. In its statement regarding the issue of the license, the PGE concern also declares that it is ready to build CCS technology.  The question is whether CCS technology is still seriously considered as an option in the European Union? Not only is it enormously expensive, but it is not used anywhere in the world in its full version. Writing about this technology almost always takes the form of the future tense or subjunctive - it is no different in PGE's position. And where will PGE get water and storage space from? There have been several CCS pilot projects around the world. In Germany, at the Schwarze Pumpe power plant, the pilot project has already been closed, and the plant itself, after prior modernization, is expected to operate until 2038. Turów wants to burn coal until 2044.

  1. PGE also claims that the public consultation was "transparent"

"Public consultation, including consultation with the Czech and German society, as part of cross-border proceedings, was conducted with full transparency and taking into account the maximum waiting time for the positions of neighbouring countries" - adds Zbigniew Kasztelewicz.

This is one of those points, which not only, to put it mildly, misses the truth, but once again mocks our neighbours - especially the Czechs. Let us add that the protests of the Czechs are not only the opposition of ecological organizations or residents neighbouring the mine, but it is also the official position of the Czech Republic.

The Czechs' reactions after the publication of PGE's position on the concession express the following: "This scandalous decision literally goes beyond the limits: it concerns both its effects and the extent to which EU law is violated. If the directives were complied with, we believe that approval of this project would not be possible, "says Petra Urbanová, Frank Bold lawyer. "It is obvious that Poland is doing everything possible to continue mining, regardless of Polish and EU law. We are witnessing the bending and direct violation of legal rules and norms to fit the plans. Access to all information is also very limited, even the Czech government's demands have been rejected. This approach threatens confidence in the rule of law, which aims to establish clear relationships and protect people and the environment."

"The activities of the European Commission and the European Parliament gave us hope that the voices of worried citizens, the region and basically the whole country will be heard, and that our water and the health of our citizens will be protected. But this did not stop Poland from issuing a decision to extend mining. We believe that because of this decision, the European Commission will start infringement proceedings against Poland and refer the case to the European Court of Justice, which is our last hope "- Jiří Löffelmann, councilor of the Liberec region.

Dominika Bobek from the Frank Bold Polska legal foundation comments on the decision: "The decision on the environmental conditions of the Regional Director for Environmental Protection in Wrocław of January 21, 2020 was issued several hours after the end of cross-border public consultation in Germany, so it is impossible that all comments of the entities participating in these consultations are duly taken into account and considered. In addition, it should be noted that the environmental decision was issued despite the clear negative position of the Czech Republic, among others due to the failure to provide sufficient documents by the Polish Party that would enable a full assessment of the impact of the planned investment on the territory of the Czech Republic. "

Lawyers do not know whether or how the environmental decision was used: "All the information we currently have is from press materials and the PGE website, because the license has not yet been made available to us. These materials show that the license was issued for six years."

An immediate enforceability order - appealed from by EKO-UNIA and Frank Bold - was granted to a decision on environmental conditions. It was theoretically given in order to be able to "take advantage" of this decision faster without waiting for appeals to be considered. However, Dominika Bobek notes: "In the case of the prolonged licence, it is unclear whether the decision on environmental conditions issued by the Regional Director for Environmental Protection in Wrocław on January 20, 2020 had any legal significance."

  1. Comments from Czechs, Germans and Poles focused strongly on the problem of drinking water.

The Czechs already have to use water delivery, and water tanks in front of the houses are not uncommon. Czech citizens must also deepen wells with their own money. The Polish side systematically refutes the arguments about the drought caused by the mine, claiming, for example, that the "underground water intake in Uhelna" is to be responsible for the deficit of underground water in Uhelna on the Czech side. The settlement of buildings and damage to real estate in Germany, in turn, are to be affected by the open pit, only not Turów, but "the German open pit closed 30 years ago". 

Michał Martin from Václavice near Turów comments: "I had to buy five water tanks and fill them regularly with tank water, which is quite an expensive solution. Otherwise, I need to connect a 100-meter hose to the only public source of water in the village from time to time, and pump water into a well closer to my house. Others who do not have this option have for their use 20 litres of water a day, flush the toilet with rainwater and wash their clothes at their relatives’ homes."

Apart from environmental issues, the decision from a few days ago reveals other problems - the use of legal lockpicks, breaking EU law and damagind good neighbourly relations. In the age of pandemic, legally doubtful concessions that promise "energy security" or work for "15,000" people are introduced through the back door. This is happening at a time when the region is facing unemployment and losing access to strategic resources. These "resources" also include neighbourly relations and good relations in the European Union.

Meanwhile, PGE and the government are building the illusion of isolationism. Germany's medical assistance for France or Italy shows how important neighbourly cooperation is during these difficult times. A virus pandemic, which at its source has the disregard of scientists' warnings and treating nature as a "garbage bin", will teach us, I hope, to set priorities.

However, PGE and the Polish government act the old way - they shamelessly push us onto a collision course with a climate catastrophe, drought, air pollution, which - we already know - increases the likelihood of respiratory infections. Finally, the government, taking advantage of the shock, goes to the next clash with the European court of justice and claims that further burning of coal means national security. Blackmail, repeated by PGE, that if Turow runs out, the electricity will go out, also belongs to the strategy of building anxiety. The economic crisis ahead of us and the empty Polish budget will verify which energy investments will be the best for Poles.


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