The Guest Blog

Posted by Arianna Vitali (WWF), Vanessa Bulkacz (CAN-E), Erica Hope (CAN-E), Brook Riley (FoEE) and Christian Debono (EEB)

Yesterday we swapped goulash and red wine for perogis and vodka as our energy-savings tour arrived in Poland from Hungary. Our expectations for Poland weren’t the highest. In Brussels, one gets the impression that the inhabitants of this coal-intensive country care little about alternative energy supplies. Indeed, in a country where more than 90% of electricity is sourced from coal, convincing audiences about other sources of energy – including ‘negawatts’ from reduced consumption– can be a tough sell.

But our hopes rose after our first meeting with government representatives. There is at least a high level of knowledge and interest in energy efficiency, although – as everywhere in the EU – doubts persist over financing measures and consequently real commitment to on-the-ground delivery. From a Polish perspective, as their aged energy infrastructure nears end-of-life en masse, there is huge concern about energy security. A once almost entirely energy-independent nation is for the first time facing an uncertain energy future. Plans for new coal-fired power plants are being cancelled all over Europe. External natural gas deliveries have already proven problematic in terms of energy security. Housing built during the Communist era is often badly in need of refurbishment. Therefore, the potential for positive change in Poland is massive and the time for unleashing a new energy source by implementing strong action on energy efficiency has never been better.

We saw a lot of interest from journalists at a media briefing our NGO partners organised. Although Poland is generally thought of as unenthusiastic about climate policy, a government official told us they are trying hard to balance climate, energy security and liberalisation of the energy market. There is talk of introducing a ‘white certificate’ programme to oblige the power sector to invest in energy savings. The Polish government publicly insists that energy efficiency is high on the agenda, and will be prominent during next year’s EU Presidency.

The Polish Energy Efficiency Act currently under debate in Polish Parliament is a long awaited chance to get things moving – although after no less than 17 re-drafts so far, its force has been much reduced. It is being developed to implement the rather weak EU Energy Services Directive (ESD) and therefore only calls for a 9% energy efficiency target by 2016. This is woefully inadequate to get Poland on track to meeting the target of 20% energy savings by 2020. So clearly, while the tide is turning, Poland is not quite there yet.

Part of the blockage comes because the Polish government is reluctant to lose the revenue it gains from energy taxes. Though the benefits of energy efficiency are clear over the long-term with regard to increased energy security and lower power bills for consumers, in the short-term it can seem too painful for investors, government and citizens alike to plunge money into it. However, analyses by the Polish Economic Ministry show that revenues from a burgeoning energy services market will more than offset the tax losses from reduced energy sales. What’s more, consumers will be able to spend more on products and services from other sectors if they’re spending less on energy.

Our visit here has confirmed that what Poland really needs is binding EU-level legislation. This is key to providing certainty and direction to the Polish business community, private investors, and the government itself, while helping Europe attain its decarbonisation goals.

Posted by Arianna Vitali (WWF), Vanessa Bulkacz (CAN-E), Erica Hope (CAN-E), Brook Riley (FoEE) and Christian Debono (EEB)

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