As winter looms, coal is expensive and scarce in the Polish city of Walbrzych and illegal mines have sprung-up.The government has made 2.4 billion euros of financial aid available. But critics say the money should be prioritise the poorest families.
Walbrzych, a city in Silesia, Poland, has a history inextricably linked and heavily marked by coal – first through the coal-mining industry, then by the closures of the mines, followed by unemployment, and now, by illegal mining organized by former miners.
Roman Janiszek, a retired miner, explains that today, in these times of a global energy crisis, coal has become a very scarce and precious commodity,
"Pensions that most people have here, people from the mining period, are not very big. It is hard to afford coal, when the price of coal is between 424 and 636 euros per ton when you buy coal in the depot. It is more affordable to get five or 10 bags, but at the same time you have to have money to survive from one month to the next, because this is how we manage to survive, penny by penny, bag by bag."
The bags of coal Roman is referring to are bags of illegally-mined coal. Following the closures of the mines, new illegal mines sprang up, created by the men who had once worked down the old legitimate pits. Roman says,
"There are questions as to whether there will be coal from the illegal mines. It will be cheaper, for sure. Maybe there is coal that is mined illegally, but the city authorities are trying to shut down these illegal mines."
If illegal coal is available, people are likely to want to buy it, if they can afford it, because the other major problem there is the lack of coal available on the Polish market. Some residents of Walbrzych, like Anna, a mother of two, is reduced to burning branches,
"This year, I am not prepared with coal at all. We have nothing, no stock. There is no fuel in depots. If there is anything, it is by subscriptions, but if you can buy it, it’s cheaper if you buy a larger amount, and unfortunately, we cannot afford to do this."
The Polish government has responded to the potential fuel crisis this winter by introducing financial aid for those who heat their homes with coal. Aleksander Brzózka, is a spokesperson, for the Polish Ministry of Climate and Environment,
"The government has prepared support and the budget is a little over 2.4 billion euros. This is support for all households in Poland that use coal as a raw material for heating their homes, and there is a one-time allowance of 636 Euros."
However, some experts warn that the government should be more economical and that there aid package should be aimed those who need it most.
Magdalena Chodownik is a Euronews Correspondent and she spoke with Rafał Zasuń, who is an expert on energy, and editor in chief wysokienapiecie.pl, about the energy situation facing Poland today.
Magdalena Chodownik: Thank you for coming and joining us today… How would you say the situation is in Poland at the moment?
Rafal Zasun: We need to import few milion tones of coal from other countries than Russia because of embargo.
Poland introduced embargo from Russian coal earlier than other European countries because we introduced it in April. Other European countries introduced it in August so they have a couple of time to fulfill the stocks with Russian coal and Poland is in an unlucky situation because we need a more special kind of coal for households which is not used anymore in countries like Great Britain, Germany and probably we will have a big shortage of this kind of coal.
MC: And there is a sort of a panic within the population…
Rafal Zasun: The panic is reasonable because people know that there is no coal. People see the price, and the price of this coal for households is skyrocketing.
MC: Would you say that the war in Ukraine has an impact on energy in Europe?
Rafal Zasun: Of course, this is the main reason of the crisis. Not war itself but sanctions and European support for Ukraine. We (the polish government) introduced embargo for Russian coal too early. If we had this embargo like the rest of European Union in August, we can increase the stocks of coal.
We increase the import of coal now but this coal from Columbia, Indonesia, Republic of South Africa cannot be.. Cannot substitute in 100% the Russian coal because the Russian coal for years was dedicated to the needs of Polish households.
MC: Do you think Poland will face the energy crisis?
Rafal Zasun: Nobody can predict how it’s gonna happen.