[Brussels, 13 July 2012] Environmental groups gave a cautious welcome to a decision by the European Commission today to block some new high-emitting coal power plants in Poland from benefiting under a €7.1 billion energy modernisation plan. The Commission's decision does not fully reveal how many new coal powered stations have been removed from Poland's modernisation strategy Groups warned that a decision to approve free emission allowances to non-existent plants was a mistake.
Commenting on today's Commission decision, Julia Michalak, climate policy officer for Climate Action Network Europe, said: "The Commission's decision shows that the tide is turning against coal in Poland and that it's high time to invest in clean energy. Prime Minister Tusk must now take stock, back green investments and work with European counterparts on a plan for stronger EU climate and energy action."
Under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme Directive (EU ETS) law agreed in 2009, power producers must pay for all emission allowances after 2012. But central and eastern European countries can apply for exemptions lasting up to seven years. In return for this flexibility, the countries concerned must develop an investment plan to modernise their power sectors and diversify their energy mix.
The Commission found that several projects in the €7.1 billion Polish investment plan did not meet the EU ETS legal requirements. Over three quarters of the investments included in the original Polish plan were for projects linked to gas and coal, which would lock Poland to highly polluting emissions from its power sector for decades.
Legality of Polish free allowances disputed
EU law bans power plants that were not part of the ETS before June 2011 from benefiting from free allowances. But Poland's interpretation of the rules would allow coal plants that are yet to be built to break this rule, argue the organisations. Last year, environmental groups lodged a complaint with the Commission accusing Poland of a serious infringement of ETS rules. They argue the Commission not only made a mistake in approving the free allowances but has so far turned a blind eye to Poland's deliberate attempt to bend the law.
Karla Hill, director of programmes at environmental legal group ClientEarth said: "We are pleased that the Commission has sent a message that new coal is not diversification, modernisation or clean. We cannot ignore the fact that the Polish government issued empty greenhouse gas permits in breach of EU law to gain unfair advantage for coal investment. We urge the Commission to uphold the law and launch infringement proceedings against Poland."