MAC: Mines and Communities

Polish ministries clash over the "green" and the black

Published by MAC on 2012-09-24
Source: PlanetArk

Poland is world's second most coal-dependent state

Poland is Central and Eastern Europe's largest coal-dependent state.*

In an attempt to reduce the country's carbon emissions toll, the government has agreed  to the burning of bio-mass along with coal in its power plants.

This has caused a rift between two of Poland's ministries.

The Economy ministry claims it's too costly to promote biomass co-firing. But without it, says the Treasury, the country can't meet its renewables' energy production  target.

Whether biomass can truly be deemed a "green" source of energy is open to question. See:

As for the continuing massive use of coal  in the co-firing of Poland's power plants...?

A particularly important matter

Just as we went to press this week, the European Environmental Agency (EEA) published an detailed report  on the prevalence of airborne  toxic emissions throughout the region.

It specifically mentioned particulates (particular matter) which can cause cancer and trigger other life-threatening diseases.

Although the report does not disaggregate the sources of this pollution, it's abundantly clear that the use of coal is responsible for significant quantities of such emissions.

The combustion of commercial, institutional and household fuels is cited as making the largest contribution to particulates, followed by that from industrial plants and transport.

(It should also be pointed out the blasting, haulage and unprotected storage of coal is universally-acknowledged as a key source point of particulate emissions),

The study says that particulate matter acts as a precursor of egregious emissions of NOx, NO2, and sulphur dioxide - a main source of which is also burned coal.

The states, held most responsible for particulate emmissions, are Poland, Italy (sic), Slovakia, the Baltic states and Turkey (in that order).

Moreover, Poland and Bulgaria evince the highest rates of unacceptable sulphur dioxide emissions. 

And Poland is named among those countries which far exceed current limits on emissions of arsenic and mercury. (Again, the main source of which is burned coal).

For the full EEA report, see:

* Polish Blackground

According to the World Coal Association (WCA), in 2011 Poland was the ninth largest coal producer in the world - mining an estimated 139 million tonnes, placing it just behind Germany (at an estimated 189 mte of mined output).

Poland is the second most coal-dependent country on the planet, requiring it for 90% of its power generation and steel output. Only South Africa is more reliant on the black stuff (at an estimated 93%).

In comparison, China's overall dependency is rated by the WCA at 79%, and that of Australia at 76%.


Polish ministries clash over support for biomass co-firing

Maciej Onoszko


14 September 2012

Poland's treasury, which controls the country's top utilities, has criticized a draft renewables law written by the Economy Ministry in the latest sign of tension over support for green energy in the coal-dependent economy.

The economy ministry had in July proposed a draft bill assuming a decline in support for biomass co-firing, which involves mixing wood and other plant material with coal before it is burnt in power stations.

If enacted, the new law would make biomass co-firing unprofitable, the Treasury said in a comment sent by e-mail, adding Poland would not meet the European Union's renewable energy goals if it changed its support rules.

Central and eastern Europe's largest economy, which generates 90 percent of its electricity from coal, is required by the European Union to reduce carbon emissions and to generate at least 15 percent of its power from renewables.

Biomass co-burning is the largest source of renewable power in Poland's energy mix, as local utilities PGE, Tauron and Enea have in the past few years upgraded their coal-fired installations in their green energy drive.

In 2011, biomass co-burning provided 3.1 TWh of power in Poland, out of a total output at 163.2 TWh. Wind power contributed 2.2 TWh and hydropower 2.0 TWh.

The economy ministry argues that the consumption of biomass in coal-fired power stations, which shot up from 1.7 million metric tons in 2006 to 5.1 million metric tons last year, is not economically viable, because of high costs of imports.

The draft renewables law had earlier drawn criticism from Poland's wind power lobby and the country's top utility PGE.

(Reporting by Maciej Onoszko; Editing by David Holmes)

Breathing European air shortens lives: report

Barbara Lewis


25 September 2012

Air pollution is shortening lives by almost two years in parts of the European Union, the European Environmental Agency (EEA) said, strengthening the case for a tightening of emissions restrictions in the bloc.

Legislation had managed to cut the amount of some toxins belched out by exhaust fumes and chimneys across Europe, according to an EEA report published on Monday.

But there were still dangerous levels of microscopic particles, known as particulate matter and linked to diseases such as lung cancer and cardiovascular problems, it added.

On average, air pollution was reducing human lives across the region by roughly eight months, the report said. It also quoted separate European Commission-funded research showing that a reduction in particulate levels could extend life expectancy by 22 months in some areas.

The report did not spell out where those areas were, but it said that Poland and other industrial regions of eastern Europe had particularly high levels or particulate pollution.

Alone among British cities, London also exceeded daily EU limits for particulate matter.

Speaking after the launch of the report, EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said that a review of EU air quality laws next year needed to bring EU limits on pollution levels closer to the stricter World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on safe levels of pollutants.

"This (the report) is a really serious warning about the importance to our quality of life and health," Potocnik told Reuters.

Apart from the impact on health, EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said that the pollution costs the bloc 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) a year in healthcare and dealing with the wider impact on ecosystems.

"European Union policy has reduced emissions of many pollutants over the last decade, but we can go further," she said.

Ozone Another Challenge

Particulate matter is considered to be the most serious air pollution risk in Europe. Using the most recent data from 2010, the report said 21 percent of the bloc's urban population was exposed to larger particulate matter at concentrations above a daily EU limit.

Up to 30 percent of city dwellers faced exposure to finer particles above the yearly EU target level. These finer particles are small enough to pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, making them particularly hazardous to health.

Another major air pollutant is ozone, which can cause respiratory problems. Again, exposure levels were high, with sunny Mediterranean nations particularly affected because sunlight is needed to form ozone.

In 2010, 97 percent of EU inhabitants were exposed to ozone above the WHO reference levels - and 17 percent above the much lower EU target level.

The pollutants come from fumes from cars, industry and household fuel burning.

After going through complex chemical reactions in the air, the pollutants get into water and agricultural land, thereby posing a threat to agricultural production.

While many pollutants are an unremitting problem, there has been success in dealing with sulphur dioxide, whose levels have dropped following laws on sulphur content in fuels.

In 2010, the EU urban population for the first time was not exposed to sulphur dioxide above the EU limit level.

($1 = 0.7699 euros)

(Additional reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Rex Merrifield, David Goodman and Richard Chang)

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