In Poland, the energy system is primarily based on coal. The share of coal in electricity production in 2012 was 85% (51% from hard coal and 34% from lignite). Thermal power is also based on coal because power is generated in coal-fired thermal power plants. Hard coal-fired power plants supply 24,500 MW of energy and lignite-fired plants – 9,233 MW. In Poland, there are also small deposits of oil and natural gas. However, they don’t have a great importance in the country’s economy – in 2012, approx. 3% of electricity was produced from natural gas and 2% from other sources (including oil). The share of renewable energy sources accounted for 10%.
The beginning of mining in Poland dates back to probably the seventeenth century, when an opencast mine was operating in Murcki. Underground mines were built almost a hundred years later – in 1755 – therefore, coal was a key raw material in Poland for many years.
Lignite deposits in Poland are very significant and amount to 29,814.7 mln Mg. There are more than 150 deposits in the central and western parts of the country. The most important regions where lignite is extracted are: the Turoszowskie Basin, the Bełchatowskie Basin and the Wielkopolskie Basin.
In recent years, the interest in renewable energy has increased in Poland. Unfortunately, there are no good legal and financial tools to support this. Fossil fuel resources are running out and the problem of excessive CO2 emission has increased. However, a membership in the European Union and an agreement on climate policy has created an extra impulse and obligation to restructure the Polish energy sector.
In February 2015, Poland passed a renewable energy act. According to the law, from January 2016, subsidies will be introduced for owners of small RES installations, with power ranges up to 3 kW and up to 10 kW – within the feed-in tariff system.
Although renewable energy has just begun to be used on a larger scale, we can already see the increase of production and consumption of this energy. Most of the renewable energy in 2013 was produced from biomass (80.03%), biofuels (8.2%), wind (6.05%), water (2.46%), biogas (2.12%), municipal waste (0.42%), heat pumps (0.33%), geothermal energy (0.22%) and solar energy (0.18%). Unfortunately, the much-criticized co-firing of coal and biomass in large power plants has a very large share in the production of renewable energy.
Opencast lignite mines and power plants
In Poland, lignite (with few exceptions) is extracted in opencast mines. The largest lignite basin is Belchatow. 20% of domestic electricity in Poland is supplied by a power station which is located there. It is one of the largest power plants in Europe with a capacity of 4,320 MW. Other important power plants are Konin and Turek, with a total capacity of 2,700 MW, the Turow power plant in Bogatynia with a capacity of 2,000 MW, and the Patnow-Adamow-Konin power plant – 2,512 MW.
In 20 – 30 years in Poland, most of the existing coal mines will be closed due to depletion of reserves. It is expected that active mines will be able to work (with decreasing production levels) over the following periods:
- “Adamow” – until 2029,
- “Turow” – until 2035,
- “Konin” – until 2037,
- “Belchatow” – until 2050.
However, there are plans to open new opencast lignite mines in the Lubuskie voivodship (the Gubin-Brody mine), in Zloczew near Lodz, in Piaskow, Oscisłowa and Deby Szlacheckich in the region of Konin, and in southern and eastern Wielkopolska. The Polish Energy Group (PGE) and PAK carry on strong lobbying in these regions to persuade local communities that these investments are necessary. However, many municipalities have organized referendums, where the majority of the residents were against new opencast lignite mines.