22 October 2019 | Reading 5 mins.

On coal and water in Poland

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Stuart Reigeluth
Founder of REVOLVE

Stuart Reigeluth, Founder of REVOLVE

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 Dr. Seuss-like factory pipes and passages: it’s hard to follow where all the pipes go. On the ground, old tracks look abandoned, but they are still in operation as little orange trains push containers full of metals and wood towards the main shaft that descends 1,295 meters in the Earth, making it one of the deeper mines in Poland now, too. Beneath the surface, tunnels extend for kilometers in all directions.

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. 

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