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The geothermal success story of a gateway to Warsaw – interview with Mayor of Piastów, Grzegorz Szuplewski

Piastów – a town of over 23,000 residents located right on the western border of Warsaw – has in the last few years placed Poland’s natural renewable source of energy from the Earth (for example, geothermal energy) at the forefront of its green transition agenda. To better understand these key developments, we recently sat down with Piastów’s Mayor Grzegorz Szuplewski, discussing the town’s green energy programme and plans going forward.

“It all started, as usual, with a vision. In 2018, we aimed to tackle the challenge of tapping into the natural source of clean energy, which is geothermal energy. Our city, Piastów, has been dealing with a significant issue of smog during the heating season for several years,” Mr Szuplewski tells us. “For the past six years, we have successfully implemented a municipal subsidy programme for residents to replace old, polluting furnaces and outdated gas furnaces with modern gas furnaces and, for the past two years, heat pumps. During this time, over three hundred low-emission heat sources were eliminated, significantly improving air quality in Piastów.”

In 2017, the town’s authorities launched a “Better Climate for Piastów” programme. As Mr Szuplewski recalls, the programme’s flagship measures include the development of green spaces, the promotion of public transportation (which became free in 2020) or the creation of an energy cluster (the “Clean Energy for Piastów” cluster was formed in the fall of 2018).

Other measures in the programme include thermal modernisation of public facilities and multi-family communal buildings, replacement of public lighting, creation of an energy management centre, energy transformation and promotion of renewable energy sources – such as geothermal energy.

A strong bet on geothermal energy

“Geothermal energy is where we place great hope to lead Piastów to a situation, in a few years, where it becomes a green city of clean energy, as we outline our strategic development direction,” Mayor Szuplewski tells CEENERGYNEWS.

It may come as a surprise that a small town like Piastów opts for geothermal energy as its main source of clean energy, instead of the more commonly deployed sources like wind or solar. “Due to its location, spatial parameters, and building type, Piastów has no chance of implementing actions such as a large PV farm, wind farm construction, or biogas plant,” says Mr Szuplewski. “In this situation, we opted for geothermal energy as a source with significant potential, providing a real solution for clean energy in the city in the foreseeable future. Our vision is coming to life and we are enthusiasts of this solution!”

Notwithstanding the abovementioned spatial limitations, the central-eastern town of Piastów is situated in areas most suitable for geothermal investments in Poland, according to recent studies. More broadly, this encompasses most of the country’s central regions together with the north-western region surrounding the city of Szczecin near the German border.

Continuing our discussion on geothermal energy, we asked Mr Szuplewski about financing for geothermal projects both on the national and European levels. “Until 2021, the possibilities of accessing funds for geothermal development were very limited. We experienced this in 2018/2019 when we first applied for financial support to drill a research well in our city. Despite a well-founded justification and meeting all formal requirements, our application did not receive support due to limited funds available to the ministry and the NFOŚiGW [National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management],” he tells us. “The situation radically changed in our favour when, two years later, our updated application received the highest rating among all submitted by 35 municipalities in a new round.”

In August 2021, the town signed a contract for the implementation of the Piastów GT-1 well, being one of the 15 beneficiary municipalities from a governmental funding round, Mr Szuplewski notes. “It can be confidently stated that a kind of revolution took place in the systemic view of geothermal energy as a source of clean energy of great importance on a national scale. I am pleased that two years later, our project has been realised.”

Mr Szuplewski at the geothermal drilling well in Piastów.

“We now have our own source of geothermal energy and we already know (unofficially for now) that its parameters outlined in the project have been confirmed and even improved,” the Mayor underlines. “I am hopeful for further support in national programmes for our activities in the next stages of our geothermal project. To prepare well for them and not waste time, we have been conducting project work for several months to prepare the technical documentation for the construction of the second well, heating plant, and expansion of the heating network in the city.”

The financing for these works is provided by the European Investment Bank’s European Local ENergy Assistance (ELENA) programme, of which Piastów is one of the very few beneficiaries in Poland, Mr Szuplewski tells us.

What can we expect from the new government?

Amid the news about a coalition agreement being signed by Poland’s main opposition parties to form the country’s next government, we asked Mr Szuplewski about how the likely change in the ruling party may impact the further development of geothermal energy in Piastów. “I hope that the central authorities’ interest in geothermal energy will not change negatively. Existing support programmes should be maintained and even strengthened,” he says.

“In a situation where renewable energy sources are so essential, it seems that geothermal energy, due to its significant feature of independence from external conditions such as lack of wind or weak sunlight, has great development potential in our country,” says the Piastów Mayor. “The programme of which the city of Piastów is a beneficiary, demonstrates the purposefulness of financially supporting such initiatives as the implementation of research wells (of course, in locations with promising prospects for valuable heat sources).”

Approaching the end of our discussion, Mr Szuplewski says that it is certainly “worth” allocating additional funds to local governments to subsidise subsequent stages of geothermal investments, such as the construction of additional wells in locations with confirmed thermal source values, and in the next step, heating plants. “We formulate these expectations today based on our own experience and facing further challenges in this area,” he concludes.

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