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How will Poland’s parliamentary elections impact its green transition?

On Sunday, Poland will elect its next government. Over the past few weeks, we have been following the Polish parliamentary elections to understand the role of energy and climate policies in the ongoing campaign and what we might expect from the biggest economy in Central and Eastern Europe after 15 October.

The main election battleground – policies of Law & Justice and Civic Coalition

Starting with renewables, the current ruling right-wing party Law & Justice (PiS) has pledged to double the current installed capacity. If re-elected, the party would aim to provide regulatory and systemic support and secure EU funds for network investments, which would include, among others, modernising and expanding medium and low voltage networks, increasing resistance to unfavourable weather conditions and rolling out charging infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs).

Renewables, however, would play more of a complementary role to the future “foundation” of Poland’s energy mix – nuclear, as suggested by the PiS manifesto. The document outlined plans for an “Energy Pact” proposal predicated on nuclear, renewables and mining reserves.

“Fast energy transformation, involving the construction of an energy mix based on nuclear energy supported by renewable energy sources,” the PiS manifesto noted.

“We are committed to a just transition, including support for mining and mining regions. Mining, a Polish national treasure, must serve as an energy reserve for our country,” the PiS manifesto read. At the same time, the document emphasised that “until investments in renewable energy and nuclear energy are implemented, coal is and will remain a guarantee of Polish energy security.” Here, PiS noted plans to establish a National Energy Security Agency. In terms of the just transition, the ruling party has pledged to implement social agreements with representatives of the mining and energy industries.

Turning to the biggest opposition group, the centre-left coalition Civic Coalition (KO), the party’s 100 policies for the first 100 days manifesto, similarly to PiS, positions the development of renewables and nuclear as the two pillars of Poland’s future energy mix.

Interestingly, the party pledges a further liberalisation of the onshore wind energy distance act to include a “500-metre rule,” originally proposed by the PiS government in July 2022. KO also calls for the restoration of “favourable rules” for prosumers (particularly relevant photovoltaic investments), a reform passed under the current administration.

It is key to highlight that the 100 policies for the first 100 days document does not include a plan for a coal phase-out and the just transition. At the same time, KO’s manifesto noted plans to present a “detailed energy transformation plan” that would reduce carbon emissions by 75 per cent by 2030.

Increased importance of smaller parties

According to a majority of polls, PiS and KO are both unlikely to govern with a clear majority, which may significantly strengthen the influence of smaller parties in shaping the next government’s energy and climate policies.

Taking a look at the manifesto of the Third Way, a centre/centre-right coalition polling at around 10 per cent as of 7 October, the party emphasised support for renewables and prosumers, pledging to enable and simplify the purchase of electricity from panels directly from private producers. “We will break the state monopoly on energy networks,” the coalition’s 12 guarantees of the Third Way policy programme noted.

However, aside from a pledge to “power Poland with energy from our sun, wind and our biogas plants,” the relatively short policy programme does not mention the future role of nuclear and coal in Poland’s future energy mix.

Looking at the other side of the political spectrum, the manifesto of The Left, a left-wing formation also polling at around 10 per cent as of 7 October, continues to offer a similar climate and energy vision, with an emphasis on an energy system predicated on renewables and nuclear, as well as support for research in clean energy, energy efficiency and storage.

Whilst The Left does not officially oppose nuclear energy, the party is nonetheless more sceptical towards its development, Magdalena Maj, Head of the Climate and Energy at the Polish Economic Institute tells CEENERGYNEWS. This view is perhaps reflected in a latter part of the party’s manifesto that proposed most of the consumed electricity to come from renewables by 2035. In this context, photovoltaic and wind energy would play a key role, in addition to biogas and biomethane plants in rural areas.

Additionally, the party’s manifesto pledged to relax “harmful distance regulations” and develop energy storage options. “…In the coming years, with the addition of nuclear energy, we will achieve a zero-emission energy mix. Stable energy generation with its participation will also enable the production of green hydrogen for transport and the chemical industry,” the manifesto read. Moreover, similarly to the PiS manifesto, the Left notes the need for the modernisation of the national transmission and distribution network.

The Left’s manifesto provided a more extensive plan for policymaking on the EU level, in comparison to other parties. The party would “focus on EU cooperation” in lowering the price of raw materials and would “strive to replace” the current EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) with a “more predictable and less speculative” charging system.

In contrast to the programmes of KO and the Third Way, the Left’s manifesto, sets out a strategy on the just transition, albeit still lacking in concrete substance. The party promises to provide direct support to the affected communities and involve them in decision-making processes.

Moving to the far right of the political compass, Konfederajca, which is polling at around 9 per cent as of 7 October, openly criticises the “current model” of the energy transition, in particular when it comes to the EU’s energy and climate policies, which it sees as a major risk to Poland’s energy security. “The current model of this transformation is largely imposed on Poland by external decision-making factors – especially the European Union,” Konfederajca’s manifesto read.

The far-right group sets out a priority “to question” these policies, including a proposal to suspend the EU ETS in Poland. As an alternative, Konfederacja proposes an energy mix based on “Polish coal, Polish renewable energy sources and nuclear energy.” Here, the word “Polish” is key. According to Konfederajca’s manifesto, the green transition would make Poland more dependent on imports of installations for wind and solar power plants, nuclear fuel and gas. In addition, the manifesto emphasised that renewables are “weather-dependent,” without mentioning energy storage as a potential solution.

Konfederacja also claims that Poland without coal is a “dangerous utopia” that does not take into account the “serious consequences” for both society and the economy, proposing to keep coal extraction at an “appropriate level.” On this point, the party proposes the development of coal gasification, storing CO2 underground (CCS technology) and technologies for the production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels.

Additionally, the party’s manifesto voiced strong support for geothermal energy, which, except for PiS, does not feature in other parties’ programmes. Konfederacja proposes a new geothermal programme with a promise to remove administrative barriers “that hinder the enormous potential of geothermal energy,” the party’s manifesto noted.

What can we expect after 15 October?

Reflecting on the above indicates a rather limited role of energy and climate policies in the ongoing Polish election campaign, despite last year’s energy crisis and the acceleration of green policies on the EU level. At the same time, most policy programmes seem to demonstrate a broader consensus on Poland’s energy and climate framework, which continues to be left with important question marks: more renewables, more nuclear – and a mostly underdeveloped just transition?

As Michał Smoleń, Head of Energy and Climate Research Programme at the non-partisan think-tank Instrat Foundation, tells CEENERGYNEWS, the opposition wants to avoid the just transition topic until after the elections. Indeed, this is particularly visible in the policy programmes of the Civic Coalition and the Third Way.

Moreover, opposition parties share views on the fast deployment of green technologies, with the role of the EU ETS system pushing coal out of the energy mix. This requires, however, a forward-looking approach and the state’s active role in managing the just transition, believes Michał Hetmański, CEO of Instrat.

Separately, despite significant interest from investors in the past few years in the country’s emerging electromobility sector, this topic appears to have attracted limited political attention throughout this campaign. Aside from a short pledge to continue its development in the manifestos of PiS and The Left, extensive debates on the future role of EVs have been rare to find. However, this should not necessarily suggest political sensitivity, like in the case of the just transition and the coal phase-out.

As Aleksander Rajch, Board Member at the Polish Alternative Fuels Association points out, there is broader, albeit vague support for EVs across most political groups in Poland, where Confederation (radically conservative and nationalist) is the only one starkly against zero emission transport. The Left and Poland 2050 (a coalition partner of the Third Way) seem particularly supportive, however, not much concrete policy substance has been presented from both parties at this point, Mr Rajch tells CEENERGYNEWS.

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