The Czech government will turn to the European Commission to resolve a dispute regarding the planned expansion of the Polish Turów open-pit lignite mine located in the proximity of the Czech-Polish border, said Environment Minister Richard Brabec. As efforts to halt the project have proved to be unsuccessful so far, Prague said that it is ready to take the case to the European Court of Justice if a solution is not found.
Turów is one of the four big lignite mines operating in Poland, owned and operated by state-owned utility Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE). It has been in operation for more than a century now, as the mining license has been extended multiple times.
In March, the Turów mine was granted an extension of the mining license for the next six years by the Polish authorities. Now PGE strives to extend the concession for another 25 years until 2044, coinciding with the exhaustion of its coal deposits and the end of operation of the new 450 MW power unit, due to come online later this year.
The expansion of Turów is expected to increase the total surface area of the pit and extend the mining operation to only 70 metres from the Czech border, while the depth of the expanded pit is expected to reach 330 metres beneath the surface.
The expansion of the mine faced strong opposition from the Czech government as well as regional authorities fired by the discontent of affected citizens. Last year the Czech Ministry of Environment together with local authorities issued a statement opposing the Turów mine expansion over potential environmental impacts of the project. Apart from the noise and air pollution, Czech authorities pointed out that the project could deprive 30,000 Czechs of drinking water.
Prague argues that it has requested cooperation and negotiations from Poland at regional and then at an inter-ministerial level several times without any results as Poland continued to argue that the expansion of the Turów mine will not have a serious impact on Czech border areas.
“Poland is essentially not communicating with the Czech Republic, it is not providing adequate information, making it difficult to find a solution. Poland’s action is contrary to EU law. That is why we are turning to the European Commission,” said Environment Minister Richard Brabec in an interview with CTK, cited by Hungary news agency MTI.
The Czech government clarified that if the Polish side continues to refrain from a specific investigation into the Czechs’ concerns, it will consider filing a lawsuit with the European Court of Justice.
However, PGE claims that the expansion of the Turów mine complies with environmental standards and that it conducted consultations with all relevant stakeholders.
In a press statement earlier in June, PGE claimed that before applying for the extension of its licence, it conducted many consultations addressing all comments and questions regarding the further operation of the mine and its impact on its immediate surroundings.
“Our actions are supported by rational arguments, which we presented to our neighbours many times as part of long-term public consultations, also with the participation of residents of Germany and the Czech Republic,” said earlier Wioletta Czemiel-Grzybowska, President of the Management Board of PGE GiEK.
“We talked there about the protective measures that will be taken to eliminate the potential impact of the Turów open-cast mine on the border areas,” she added.
These protective measures include the building of an underground screen at a depth of 60-110 metres which will protect the water intake in the Czech town of Uhelna against the potential impact of the Turów Mine.
PGE claims that its assets fully meet all emission standards as the company continuously adapts its power plants and mines to the more and more stringent environmental standards.
In response to Czech allegations, PGE also launched a petition in defence of the Turów Mine and Power Plant which was then submitted to the Commission. PGE argues that the mine is paramount to maintaining the job security and development in the region.
The demands of the Czech Republic to withdraw the license and terminate the operation of the complex in Turów within ten years are unfounded. Especially that in the close vicinity of the Czech Republic and Germany there are much larger lignite mines,” emphasised Wojciech Dąbrowski, President of the Management Board of PGE.
“A quick departure from coal is not possible for technical, economic and, above all, social reasons. The Turów complex plays a very important role in Lower Silesia – it provides for tens of thousands of residents,” he concluded.
In Poland, the share of coal and lignite in electricity generation still amounts to almost 80 per cent. According to estimations the share of coal in the energy mix (both hard coal and lignite) will drop from this 80 per cent to approximately 45 per cent in 2030 and a little over 25 per cent in 2040. The transition will require long-term and capital-intensive activities as well as huge, multidimensional changes in the entire economy, as coal is one of the biggest employers in the country. Poland is the only member state that has been exempted from the EU’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050.