Another about face on Polish renewables support

By bne IntelliNews July 31, 2012

Tim Gosling in Prague -

Poland continues to weave this way and that over renewable energy support, with the economy ministry revealing on July 27 that it has again proposed scaling back support for biomass and onshore wind in favour of solar power and offshore wind. The move is likely to see fury erupt among investors for the second time in twelve months.

Presenting the latest in what has been a series of draft bills, which officials say could be in operation by January, Deputy Economy Minister Miroslaw Kasprzak said: "We're cutting support for biomass ... Importing biomass costs us PLN1bn annually," reports Reuters. "We can't work that way." Polish consumption of biomass in coal-fired power stations shot up from 1.7m tonnes in 2006 to 5.1m tonnes last year.

Meanwhile the bill also seeks to reduce overall state support for renewable energy sources between 2013 and 2020 by around PLN9.7bn (€2.35bn) to a total of PLN54.5. In addition, officials said support has favoured onshore wind projects too heavily, and that the system will be adapted to achieve a better balance of energy sources.

That essentially means reducing support for onshore wind to offer more to offshore projects, which are set to start kicking off soon, after the country's first project permits were issued in April. The ministry received around 50 applications for dozens of sites off the Baltic coast, but only five were issued - totaling 4.5GW of capacity - all but one to state-controlled companies.

Poland's top utility PGE received three and oil refiner PKN Orlen one, while Kulczyk Investments was the only fully privately owned investor to also secure a licence. Meanwhile, the remaining potential project sites have been delayed, according to some reports to allow them to be prospected for shale gas reserves first.

The latest draft is the third version of the renewable support bill following angry responses from investors already running biomass and onshore wind projects. Critics also complained that the previous versions would ruin Poland's chances of fulfilling its EU renewables targets, which require it to boost green energy's share of the energy mix to 15% by the end of the decade. Around 90% of Polish power currently comes from coal.

According to renewable energy news portal Recharge, Warsaw shocked the sector in December by announcing plans to slash subsidies for onshore wind farms and remove a provision forcing utilities to buy electricity from them at a fixed price. However, reports in April claimed that the furor it caused amongst investors had forced the government to back away from those plans, and that Warsaw had signaled it would more or less retain the existing support system. Officials at the time said that targets of expanding onshore wind capacity from the current 1.6GW to 5.6GW by 2020 remained intact.

The April about face followed several months of frantic lobbying by Poland's onshore wind sector, which added more than 400MW of new capacity last year, making it the sixth-largest market in the EU. Officials looked to have taken on board the argument that it would have been disastrous for many local companies and banks that have invested in the sector.

However, it looks likely that the state-controlled giants running the country's coal-fired power plants, mines, and now offshore wind projects, have been hard at work since. Perhaps surprisingly, the Polish Association of Wind Energy called the latest draft a positive step, saying in a statement: "Although some areas need to be improved, there is no doubt that the wind energy sector can look calmly into the future."

Figures released by the ministry on proposed future levels of support show that under the latest draft, aid for biomass and onshore wind would be less than now, while offshore wind and photovoltaic solar power generation would receive more help. The draft bill must go through a period of consultation by other government ministries and industry groups before it can move on to parliament for adoption.

Poland is reported to have the potential to build as much as 10,000MW of offshore farms on the Baltic Sea, which will generate 30 terawatt-hours of electricity per year, or almost 20% of current annual consumption, Bogdan Gutkowski, the head of the Polish Offshore Wind Energy Society, said on February 22.

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