Will Electricity Shortages in Poland Change Any Policies?

Poland is stumbling over a cliff on its energy future. Poland's energy future has been the subject of hundreds of ages of "plans" written by out of touch bureaucrats beholden  to the invested interest of the state in its coal-fired utilities. Not surprisingly, these plans have little to do with reality. See "Hitting Reality: Polish Energy Policy Meets the Facts," May 2014. Now electricity shortages and threatened brown-outs may compel Polish politicians to start at least trying to consider technological and economic realities.

Alone in Europe, Poland is building new coal-fired capacity while its coal and lignite fired current plants are relics of a past age. New coal plants will cost more than wind energy and during their useful life they will also be more expensive than PV. But they will only be profitable if they can operate at high rates of utilization. On average, Poland uses about 55% of its electricity capacity and renewable energy gets a priority in the order of merit which has lowered fossil fuel plant utilization rates throughout Europe. Such plants will remain profitable only be state aid in the form of "capacity markets" where owners get paid to simply have the plants available whether they are used or not. This is the most expensive option for "reserve" power and makes no sense. It is of course part of the Polish plan, since it benefits state-owned utilities. See  Electric Power Research Institute California Study.

While Polish politicians echo the coal industry mantra about the unreliability of renewables, all of our neighboring countries seem to have surpluses using much higher rates of renewable energy. As cross border connections grow, Poland will be compelled to buy this green energy in lieu of its domestic coal-based electricity, even when there is no shortage.

No major political party in Poland has embraced a modern and realistic energy policy that is based on the new technological and economic realities. The pain of brown-outs, lost jobs, higher prices for the wrong bets on technology, and other adverse consequences will force a re-thinking of energy policy here. We can cedrtainly re-double our efforts to force a real debate.


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