Belchatów: Today Europe’s largest mine. Tomorrow RES and a green future?28.02.2022Media
For many years the Bełchatów region was associated with the mining industry. In the face of the energy transformation, green investments are to be the new flywheel. But will they replace coal?
Author: Mateusz Kucharczyk / EURACTIV.pl
Content of this article does not reflect the positions or opinions of the EU-SysFlex project or its partners. EU-SysFlex is not responsible for the information or opinions included in this article.
Bełchatów Power Plant is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the European Union. According to various estimates, it generates between 17 and 20 percent of Poland’s electricity. Due to rising prices of coal emissions and climate damage, the complex will be gradually phased out in the coming years.
In the coming decades, Belchatow is facing major changes, and questions about the future of the mine trouble many people, residents, politicians and activists. Poland’s gradual withdrawal from burning coal in power plants means that the energy transformation of Europe’s largest lignite complex will have to be tackled.
And this will certainly be a complex, costly and lengthy process. Already today, local authorities and the owner of the mine are drawing up ambitious transformation plans, which include funds from the European Union.
Eastern Wielkopolska sets standards
On EURACTIV.pl we wrote about the climate transformation plans of another of Poland’s mining regions. In Eastern Wielkopolska, they plan to have the last coal-generated electricity flowing in 2030, and in 2040, this part of Poland’s second largest province aims to achieve climate neutrality.
These ambitious plans indicate that Eastern Wielkopolska is far advanced in developing its energy transition strategy.
However, Wielkopolska has started preparing for the changes resulting from climate policy earlier. Besides, it does not play such a role as Bełchatów in the national energy mix.
Polish Energy Group (Polska Grupa Energetyczna), which owns lignite coal mine and power plant Bełchatów, is the biggest employer in the region and source of significant income for the budgets of the surrounding municipalities.
According to the strategy of Łódzkie Voivodeship, only this mining and energy complex employs about 8 thousand people. Additional employment of about 7 thousand people is guaranteed by subsidiary companies.
But that’s not all, because a number of local companies and companies from outside the region also work for the complex. It is estimated that in total the Belchatow complex and related sectors may employ over 20 thousand people.
For comparison, in Eastern Wielkopolska about 4.6 thousand people work in lignite mines and power plants owned by ZE PAK and an additional 2-3 thousand are engaged in services connected to the power plants.
Bełchatów: Are we ready for the energy transition?
In 2016 alone, the health costs of air pollutant emissions from the Belchatow Power Plant included 489 premature deaths, while 2020 estimates put the death toll as high as 1,000.
However, over the next several years the exploitation of local deposits will come to an end. New investments and new perspectives for the local community will be necessary. The voivodeship strategy lists among the main challenges for the area the development of an innovative and diversified economy, attracting new investors and creating attractive jobs.
The plans of the local government in cooperation with the owners of the Bełchatów plant are impressive, however, the local community and activists wonder what future awaits the city and the region in the post-coal era.
The latest example is the film „Bełchatów – what’s next after coal?”, in which the region’s inhabitants, local government representatives and green transformation experts try to answer questions about the future.
Because there is little time left for action before the authorities. In June 2021. The Board of the Łódź Voivodeship adopted the Territorial Plan of Just Transformation for the Łódź Voivodeship, which includes a declaration to reduce energy production from lignite by 80 percent by 2030.
„This document opens space for interference in the local labour market, but also allows for the creation of new projects to stimulate the development of the region,” states Maciej Kozakiewicz, plenipotentiary of the Łódź Voivodeship Board for the transformation of the Bełchatów region, quoted in the film.
The authors of the film argue that the inhabitants of the Bełchatów region may benefit a lot from learning about the experience of other communities which have been facing a similar problem, e.g. Eastern Wielkopolska.
Windmills, RES and billions of zlotys
Let us recall that according to Wojciech Dąbrowski, President of PGE, the decommissioning of individual units of the largest Polish co-generation plant is to be carried out gradually until 2036. At the same time, the Bełchatów and Szczerców opencast mines will be decommissioned. PGE plans to decommission the first one as early as 2026 and the second one as late as 2038.
The objective is to develop renewable energy sources, including distributed and prosumer energy. According to the national energy policy, construction of a nuclear power plant in the Bełchatów region is also possible by 2040. This location is supported by extensive network infrastructure and experienced power engineering staff.
Belchatow is on the list of potential locations indicated by the government. Nuclear power in Poland is an increasingly near future. In December 2021, a preferred site was indicated for the construction of the first nuclear power plant in Poland. It is the seaside site of Lubiatowo-Kopalino in Choczewo municipality (Wejherowo poviat, Pomeranian voivodeship).
The first unit is not expected to be commissioned until 2033 and the next one a few years later. However, people in and around Bełchatów will need work soon.
The region is to be supported in its transition to a green economy by funds from the Fair Transformation Fund (FST). Poland may become the biggest beneficiary of this EU fund, as it may receive EUR 3.8 bln from the total pool of EUR 17.5 bln for the years 2021-2027, out of which the Łódzkie Voivodeship may count on EUR 344 mln. The Polish government would like some of this money to flow to the Bełchatów region and is to lobby in Brussels for this.
PGE has also announced investments in the Bełchatów region. In the next few years it plans to spend almost 5 billion PLN for this purpose. The projects related to renewable energy sources are at the forefront.
Several large photovoltaic farms with a total capacity of up to 600 MW are to be constructed on post-mining land by the end of 2030. PGE is also considering the construction of new wind farms in those areas.
However, the realization of these plans depends on the amendment to the so-called distance law which will block investments in onshore windmills (read more about it HERE). The change in the law may contribute to the launch of farms with a total capacity of up to 100 MW within the next five to seven years. Renewable energy investments will be complemented by energy storage facilities with capacity of up to 300 MW.
For comparison, let us add that the total power achievable by the current coal-fired power plant is 5472 MW. It is an abyss. Therefore, RES will not replace the current capacity of Bełchatów.
Competition for Warmia and Mazury: The deepest lakes in Poland
Apart from windmills and solar panels, a thermal waste processing installation with energy recovery is planned. The plant will be built next to the power plant in Bełchatów and will produce electricity and heat for the inhabitants. The capacity of the installation will reach 180 thousand tons of waste per year. The cost of the investment is estimated at approximately PLN 700 million.
In the further future, the currently exploited excavations of the mine will be flooded with water. As a result, the deepest lakes in Poland will be created with a total area of 3890 ha, around which a tourist infrastructure will be developed, providing jobs for residents of the region.
The lakes will be up to 170 m deep. The dumps of the decommissioned opencast mines – the outer Szczerców field and the inner Bełchatów field – are already being recultivated. The former is approximately 1,100 ha, and the latter 1,300 ha. However, the dumps will turn into forested mountains.
Only on Szczerców Mountain over 4 million trees were planted in 2020. Góra Kamieńsk, today one of the most important recreational areas in the Łódź Voivodship (and the highest hill in Central Poland), has already been built on the external dump of the Bełchatów Field.
In order to implement its plans, PGE – as it informs – will establish a RES technology center on the basis of the companies which today support the operation of the Bełchatów complex. This will allow those companies to re-brand themselves in the direction of RES projects.
The power plant and mine employees will be able to use the services of the Competence Development Centre which has been operating for several months. The main task of this center will be to train employees in accordance with the needs of entrepreneurs and the changing labour market in the Łódź province, especially in the renewable energy sector.
However, specialists in automation, analytics, IT, electrotechnology or biotechnology will also be educated here. There will also be classes in technical English, as well as in the so-called soft social and managerial skills, including building commitment and motivation of the team.
Read the article in Polish