Interview: Grzegorz Tobiszowski, Deputy Minister of Energy, Poland
India needs Polish expertise for the development of its mines
A major coal producer in Europe, Poland hosted the Cop24 Climate Change Summit. In an interview, Grzegorz Tobiszowski, who has been a parliamentarian since 2013, speaks of measures to modernise the coal industry as well as cooperation with India.
Here at Katowice, how important is the discussion around coal and what is the Polish position on phasing out of coal?
Discussions around coal are important in Cop24, not only because it is being held in Poland but also in Katowice, which is the biggest coal producing region in Europe. We are in Silesia region, which is now the only coal producing part of Europe and where coal is still being mined in this continent, even if it is in a very small part of Poland.
We have seen a dramatic shift in the economic activity in this region and a complete transformation. I would say, some years ago, may be 40 or 50 years ago, the economic activity in this region was entirely dominated by mining industry but over the decades we have been reducing the production and consumption of coal. Of course, we are still mining it and using it, but with the exhausting resources of coal and with the development of other economic activities, our dependence on coal is declining. With the shrinking of this enormous industry, we have to develop other activities, especially in our energy sector.
We have been developing other industries such as manufacturing industry, energy industry, and automotive industry as an alternative to coal mining. We have seen very strong development of the car manufacturing industry and welcomed investments by automobile companies such as Fiat and Opel. In some regions we have also seen very strong development of IT industry as well as manufacture of industrial devices and other industrial goods, including automobile parts.
Hence, in this very industrial region, now the share of coal mining, as part of the overall economic activity, has slipped to less than 50 pc. And due to this fact, we have seen various changes. Hence, in this part of Poland and in this part of Europe, there has been a natural process, or I should say an evolution towards respecting nature and natural resources, for using the coal in a sustainable fashion, but also on the other hand openness to natural changes that take place. Also, since the 1990s, we have seen in this region, an intensive increase in the introduction and use of new technologies, even for coal mining and use of coal for power generation, even though they have all higher costs. In this room today, we can see the technologies that have led to enormous changes in the various types of chemicals that are emitted from coal-fired plants. Therefore, you can see that this region is a special place for discussing climate change. We know that we have to be open to the use of new technologies that are available today for us to reduce emissions and reduce the impact of our industries on climate.
We are putting a lot of effort in ensuring that there are changes in the efficiency of the industry, in the caring for the climate and the competitiveness of our business, but we are also focussed on social issues as well because we believe it’s not good if there is no social acceptance of these changes. People like me functioning in the public area have to connect diverse elements of modern solutions, competitiveness of the economy and also care about climate; and we also have to make sure that we reach our people so that they understand and accept these solutions. Hence, at this Cop24 meeting, Poland is presenting the concept of solidarity transformation, but we are also talking of human and climate. What do we mean by this? We mean that we have to care for climate because we know that’s a great challenge today, but we can not leave the humans out of it because they are also important. So, we have decided to focus on innovation, which is a process. A process of deciding and implementing new technologies, but also a process that shows effects rapidly, effects related to economy, environment and the quality of life.
How is the Polish coal mining sector performing?
We have just completed a three-year process of complete transformation of the mining sector. In 2015, all mines were being closed due to extensive losses, but I am happy to tell you that this year is the first year when our coal mines are profitable again and are growing. So, where do these results come from? Of course, one factor is the higher coal price, but we have also managed to lower the costs of mining. We have taken out redundant capacities in active mines, we have created clusters by bringing two-three mines under a single operation, thus saving a lot of costs that would be entailed with each mine running independently. There is a lot of saving due to shared facilities and this allows us to invest more money in the mines and modernise them, by using latest machines and use IT for mining also. So, we are achieving different kinds of results from our mining sector. We are using new technology and different innovative solutions to ensure that our mining sector is more modern and hence it is more profitable, safer, and cleaner. In our energy mix, coal is an important part and we need to make sure that there is adequate supply of coal all over the country to ensure continuous energy supply. We cannot accept even a minute of blackout. Another very important factor is the price. Our energy prices have to be reasonable and competitive for individuals and businesses. We have developed very efficient and eco-friendly boilers for our coal-fired power plants and I can say that we have the most developed technology in our region.
Are you focusing on the renewable energy?
We are investing in renewable energy. We invest in wind energy. On our land, there are not too many areas with a lot of wind, but we are creating a 10 GW offshore wind energy plan in the Baltic Sea. We have less sun than India, yet we are also developing solar power plants to be used essentially in two months of summer when the sun shines brightly. Our energy mix will also have nuclear power and natural gas to complement other sources of energy.
Since different countries are at different stages of development, should obligations under the Paris Agreement be the same or built as per their own conditions?
We, in Poland believe that every country has the right to decide on its own energy mix, depending on the resources available as well as the needs of the society and industry. This is a very important moment after the Paris Agreement to see what kind of environmental regulations can each country accept according to its own economic situation and other specific conditions. I think we need to review these factors carefully before we begin implementing them.
We need to ensure that the environmental regulations are rationalised and that they don’t pose too heavy a burden on the people or businesses. These need to be customised for each nation and not impose a global condition on nations with very different conditions and situation.
What are the relations between Poland and India in the mining and energy sectors?
I had the opportunity to be in India, in West Bengal and in the capital of your country and I had numerous discussions with your government. In February 2019, again, I will be in India. We have an agreement between India and Poland for collaboration in the mining sector. This agreement will basically promote cooperation between Polish and Indian companies, whereby the Polish companies will provide to India various services – from designing and technology to investment.
Do you see scope to enhance the Polish presence in Indian mining sector?
We have just completed a complete transformation of our mining sector and modernised it with new technology deployment for not only making the mines more efficient and profitable, but also very safe for the workers and with limited impact on the environment. Our companies are currently in discussions with the Indian government, West Bengal government and also companies to transfer this know-how or provide them technical and financial assistance in this direction.