Lack of coal causes winter anxiety for Poles who depend on it

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By Julian GOMEZ
Lack of coal causes winter anxiety for Poles who depend on it
Copyright  euronews

Millions of Poles are still reliant on coal for their energy and heating needs, but a steady decline in the country's production, the embargo on Russian imports, and inflation have all played their part in a looming energy crisis this winter.

The southern Silesia region, is the very soul of Poland´s coal-mining sector, the largest in the European Union, but even here the lack of coal doesn’t spare anybody, including former miners. 

"25 years down in the mines, and I have nothing. I don’t have any coal. Nothing.

There is no place to buy coal. There is no money to buy it. That’s it."
Jacek Kowalski
Retired Coal Miner

Jacek says retired miners like him used to receive 3 tonnes of complimentary coal every winter, but not anymore. 

"From where can warehouses get coal? And then, if you go yourself to the mine, there are 2,000 people ahead of you on the waiting list." Says Jacek.

Retired Coal Miner
Jacek KowalskiRetired Coal Miner

The almost 2 million Poles whose heating directly depends on coal face a bleak winter, and temperatures here can drop to -20ºC.

The government has promised help, but prices have multiplied four times since Spring, and are still rising. The war in Ukraine has stretched a sector already in decline.

Poland is the EU´s second-largest producer, behind Germany, but coal is considered too much of a pollutant and is no longer profitable here, which has led to a steady decline in the industry.  

The Bogdanka mine was made famous some weeks ago due to queues reportedly stretching back some 40km, as desperate customers searched for affordable coal. An online reservation system has subsequently made coal delivery easier, but it has been suggested that the mine only has a limited supply of coal remaining. 

Although site managers would not talk to Euronews or allow access to the facilities. 

A nearby farm needs around 2.5 tonnes tons of coal every winter. That will be difficult this year. They have considered installing a heat pump, but they could not afford the investment for a sum of around 12,000 euros.

People around us also say they don't have any money. It is really hard, believe me. All prices are very high.

I’m really worried. The previous years I had some savings. This year I have nothing left.
Halina Kołodziej
Coal User

Retailers are also caught in the eye of the energy crisis storm. The lack of coal has forced some into bankruptcy, while others have been accused of profiteering on people’s suffering.

Dramatic as the situation already is, it could get even worst. Coal's share in power generation in Poland is the highest in the European Union. So now coal scarcity and prices are also actively contributing to skyrocketing energy bills, and not only for consumers.

Faced with an imminent increase of around 700% in energy costs, the city of Sandomierz has said essential social services can soon be affected.

Euronews
Remigiusz Łukawski, Apple ProducerEuronews

A school is preparing contingency plans to avoid shutting down and forcing their 300 students to online learning. There is a similar situation at the local swimming pool too, where around 300 swimmers come every day. There is now a real risk of closing up altogether, managers say.

"We can´t pass on 100% of our higher energy costs to our clients and on these children. In such a situation, children who are learning to swim would not be able to keep coming. And the same thing for seniors coming for their (aquagym) activities. They won’t come, as they will need that money to buy food and medicines." Says Paweł Wierzbica, the Sports Centre Manager. 

Even the local hospital, which is second biggest employer in the region, is bracing itself for a challenging winter. It provides care to some 20,000 patients every year. Essential services should not suffer, but some decisions could affect patients and their families, says the director.

One of those things would be limiting the visiting times for families and friends.

That would allow us to turn off the lights in corridors and waiting rooms, so the lighting time would be shorter.
Jerzy Kuliński
Executive Director, Holy Spirit Hospital

Coal is also adding to a bitter harvest for a local apple producer. His 12,000 trees have plenty of fruit, but he says the cost of their dry cold storage has increased by almost 1,000%.

"Energy represents nowadays around 60% of our total expenses. Before, it represented between 20 or 30% of all our costs. Already one year ago we did not make almost any money with the apples, we were on the edge. Now, with these prices it is almost certain that harvesting these apples will cost me money." says apple producer Remigiusz Łukawski.

I feel great pain when I see that everything around us has been destroyed.

We can't rebuild it. There is no chance for it. Nobody could predict that a thing like this would happen.

In just a blink of an eye people here have been left without coal, even though they are walking over coal mines. There is nothing.
Andrzej Pisarzewski
Retired miner and the conductor of a mining orchestra

Back in Silesia, at a local museum of Ethnology Euronews meets a man who for 33 years has been the conductor of a mining orchestra. The mine closed 4 years ago. Andrzej Pisarzewski now fights for the orchestra's survival and a dying way of life.

Journalist • Richard Cadey