Katowice/Brussels – In the south-eastern part of Poland, in the Upper Silesian Coal Basin, there is a coal mine near the town of Gliwice that goes by the name of Bolesław Śmiały. This coal mine is over 240 years old, making it the first and oldest coal mine in Poland. It is also one of the smallest mines now, connected to the local power plant at the base of the hill, producing around 1.5 million tons of coal per year and employing 2,000 staff. Not bad local employment for an old mine.
Outside, piles of coal stand in the drizzle beneath
Looking across the valley towards the higher heights in the distance, Grzegorz Conrad, Director of the Bolesław Śmiały, says there is ongoing exploration for an estimated 220 million tons of coal per year, with projected exploitation at 85 million tons per year. Where does all this coal go? Director Conrad says around 77% of electricity in Poland is powered by coal. No windmills are on the horizon, no solar panels in the valley. Poland also imports coal and gas from its eastern neighbor – Russia.
Around 77% of electricity in Poland is powered by coal
Coal is, of course, very political. Since the 1990s, around half of the mines have been ‘closed’ or ‘consolidated’ meaning that they have been gobbled up by bigger mine companies that keep the lesser mines running at a loss to fuel the bigger ones. Three companies now run the Polish coal market and the government has shares in all of them, so it’s an interesting private-public combination of running a profit for companies owned by the state.