How Polish cities are bucking the government’s coal trend: 5 ways to push for more renewable energy

Poland is not known for being the strongest supporter of solar, wind and biomass. Instead, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is defending the country’s last coal-fired power plant, called Ostrołęka C project, to ensure Poland’s energy security. The government should encourage renewable strategies at the local level, cities say. We looked at energy strategies in Polish municipalities and found a lot of initiative, ingenuity and a big desire for change.

Patrycja Płonka from our Polish sister Network “Energie Cités” (PNEC), knows a lot about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to deploying renewable energy at the local level. Earlier this year, Patrycja discussed the state-of-the-art with municipal representatives from cities, entrepreneurs and NGOs within the framework of the Renewables Networking Platform. Energy Cities put together five takeaways from the debate about a greener and more decentralised energy production in Poland, in hopes of inspiring other cities in Eastern Europe and inciting the government in Warsaw to reform legislation.

1) The energy transition process is not a quick fix. Coordinated efforts at all levels of government are needed to achieve a more distributed energy generation, based on local, renewable energy sources.

Poland’s economy is still very much dependent on fossil fuels. This not only implies a negative impact on climate and the environment, but also affects the country’s energy security. Renewable energy is still seen as a complement to large-scale conventional energy generation. Though supportive of small-scale renewable energy sources (RES), the Polish government is reluctant to give up fossil fuels as the main energy source.

2) The newly created “energy clusters” can be a game changer for the Polish energy transition, but their aim, role and scope of action should be clearly defined.

At the national level, the government recently introduced energy clusters. Described as a kind of local energy community, energy clusters aim to meet energy demand with local energy supply, including from renewable sources. Clusters gather key local stakeholders, such as natural and legal persons, local governments, scientists and research institutes. One cluster can cover a maximum area of five municipalities or one district. They are expected to increase distributed energy and energy security at the local level and are supposed to create the right environment for the introduction of new technologies.
Energy clusters are still in their infancy and it has been noted that many still lack a clear vision and a proper analysis of the regional and local situation. So far 115 energy clusters have been established. They applied for the Ministry of Energy’s certificate and 33 of them have received the Certificate of Pilot Energy Cluster. Good quality energy clusters should be used as models. Based on their experience, they will develop guidelines and case studies to support the creation of new clusters or the improvement of existing ones.

3) Local authorities could largely benefit from a more flexible legal definition of prosumer and a strengthened position vis-a-vis energy utilities

Local authorities in Poland are starting to see the benefits brought about by the energy transition. They are very interested in the development of renewable energy, both as producers and as supporters of citizens’ energy, but they need a favourable legal framework to be more ambitious and succeed in their undertakings. Including local authorities in the definition of prosumers was a good start, but this definition is very strict – installations need to be smaller than 40 kW to be connected to the grid – and there is significant imbalance between prosumers and energy utilities. For example, when the prosumer delivers more electricity than what they take from the grid, the difference is lost in favour of the energy utility.

4) Polish municipalities should be encouraged to use private funding more often and in a more skilful way, while the government should ensure the necessary legal environment to attract investors.

Polish municipalities have fairly easy access to non-repayable grants, which constitute the main funding source used for RES projects. Still, considering the installations foreseen both in the public and private sector, there will be not enough funds to cover all of the planned investments.

In March the government proposed an amendment to the Renewable Sources of Energy law to remove tax disincentives and kick off auctions under a new subsidy system. This would grant renewable producers a stable price for their energy in any given period. The amendment was approved by Poland’s upper house of parliament last June, with the hope, once it is signed by the President, of removing obstacles to green energy investment and help Warsaw meet EU renewable energy targets. Banks also offer some opportunities, for example providing support in emitting municipal green bonds, but other options are available.

5) Polish cities are willing to take big steps forward in their energy transition and are hungry for expert support, international exchanges and training.

Limited financial resources are not the only reason behind the lack of sufficient renewable energy deployment at local level. Human resources are also an issue when it comes to investing in RES. Polish municipalities sometimes lack the necessary knowledge and skills to prepare and implement RES projects. Financing institutions won’t fund such projects if they are not bankable, and private companies often complain about the lack of competent staff they can refer to.

Hiring qualified staff and ensuring proper training is part of the solution, but networking and exchange of experience with other municipalities is extremely important. This is where NGOs and European partners have an important role to play!

Have a look at Polish best practices in renewable energy deployment:
Uniejow’s geothermal plant
Solar energy in Niepolomice

This article was written thanks to the contribution of our partner Polish Network Energy Cities
©photos: PNEC


Publication date

September 6, 2018