EURACOAL statement at annual political dialogue of Coal Platform

On 30 November in Katowice, ahead of COP24, the Secretary General of EURACOAL spoke on behalf of members at the annual political dialogue of the Coal Regions in Transition Platform.

EURACOAL fully supports the platform and notes the good progress made by the European Commission in less than one year. Members are active with concrete project proposals, and the secretariat in Brussels is busy compiling a coal research agenda that fits with the European Commission’s long-term climate strategy, proposed just two days before the dialogue.

Twenty-two EU member states still use significant volumes of coal – each measured in millions of tonnes per year. EURACOAL represents coal users in these countries, but especially coal producers in the eleven member states that mine coal – 464 million tonnes in 2017.

Mr. Grzegorz Tobiszowski, Secretary of State and Government Plenipotentiary for the restructuring of hard coal mining in Poland, at the annual political dialogue of the Coal Regions in Transition Platform, Katowice, 30 November 2018

The European coal industry has been in decline for decades. That decline has slowed recently (see p.34 in EU coal regions: opportunities and challenges ahead, EC Joint Research Centre report EUR 29292 EN, 2018), but will speed up again with the mine closure plans now proposed by industry. No other sector has contributed as much in terms of CO2 emission reductions since 1990. Economics has driven this decline – beginning with competition from North Sea gas in Western Europe and the collapse of uncompetitive industry in Eastern Europe.

In a perfect world, wind power and solar PV would now be replacing coal. Sadly, they are neither fully competitive nor reliable. Better, more economic alternatives to coal will come along in good time. In the meantime, we have to make the best use of what we have. The EU Emissions Trading System will take care of carbon emissions and the coal industry can operate under its ceiling. There is no need to import natural gas to replace coal. The backup to renewables, the security of power supply, and the virtual storage of electricity can all be provided by coal power plants that are already built or are being built. No more big, new coal plants are needed, only an electricity market that properly rewards power plant availability. The Polish government has stated that the hard coal plants now under construction are the country’s last.

Europe should celebrate that the energy transition can be safe and secure, because we have coal in our “back pocket”. It will be a while before we can rely on 100% renewables, not least because they cannot deliver when needed; at least not until large-scale energy storage technologies are widely available.

As and when coal mines close, land must be restored and new jobs created. There is no hurry; it takes years to plan and implement land reclamation projects, after decades of mining. If we hurry, then these plans become impossible to execute, because the revenue from mining is not there to fund them.

The problems in Europe are nothing compared with elsewhere: 94% of coal is used outside of the EU (measured on an energy basis) and its use is growing for electricity generation. More and more people are benefitting from that. We must offer better ways to use coal, with lower CO2 emissions. If we do not, then our own climate action will be futile.

The former Polish Prime Minister, Prof. Jerzy Buzek MEP (EPP, PL), addresses stakeholders at the annual political dialogue of the Coal Regions in Transition Platform held in Katowice on 30 November 2018.

EURACOAL supports the inclusion of Ukraine in the Coal Platform. Pilot projects have been identified by the Ukrainian Ministry of Energy in the Donesk and Lviv regions. By sharing our experience, we can help transform these industrial regions of Ukraine.

R&D into new technologies will be crucial there and elsewhere, such as the gasification of coal with wastes to produce liquid fuels that can be stored and used to meet demand peaks. In the US, the coal industry and the government are looking to build smaller, more flexible, more efficient coal power plants. In Japan – also a big coal user – hydrogen from coal catches the imagination of what is possible and what is needed to reduce CO2 emissions.

There is much to do under the Coal Platform. EURACOAL hopes that politicians, policymakers and their advisors can all agree that those who work hard in the EU coal industry – over a third of a million – deserve our respect. Their days might be numbered, but they will see us through a few more decades of harsh winters to come.

EURACOAL President Rogala at Coal Platform

Presentation by EURACOAL President, Mr. Tomasz Rogala (click to download)

 

Addressing the third working group meetings of the Coal Regions in Transition Platform in Brussels on 5 November 2018, EURACOAL President Rogala advised that, when talking of change in the coal mining sector, the conversation must reflect the importance and maturity of this sector’s value chain.

The Coal Platform is an initiative of the European Commission to assist regions who wish to transition away from coal.

Throughout the coal mining sector, he explained, engineers operate and maintain technically advanced equipment on a daily basis, while scientists search for ways to improve production processes and coal utilisation. Thus, the economic value to society as a whole goes beyond the supply of energy to include the creation of knowledge and competences.

According to Mr. Rogala, coal mining jobs in the Silesian region of Poland are well paid, exceeding average salaries there by 50%. During the transition, he expressed his concern that any new jobs would be less well paid. He also noted that municipalities are very dependent on local taxes and would suffer if income from the coal mining sector were to be lost. For example, in the first nine months of 2018, €575 million was paid in local and national taxes by his own company, the Polish Mining Group or PGG. The company has an annual turnover of over €2.6 billion, employing 42,000 people plus over 3,000 contractors. Beyond that, there are some 150,000 jobs at suppliers of equipment and services. Mr. Rogala estimated that equipment purchases alone were worth €220 million each year. He called for a socially responsible transformation, warning against the erosion of industry in regions such as Silesia as this could undermine citizens’ trust in authority and ultimately lead to radicalism.

On a positive note, he presented what is probably the largest welding shop in Central and Eastern Europe, part of the PGG group and employing skilled welders and machinists with all the latest equipment on a floor area of over 2 hectares. By developing such competencies – from design, production, finishing, supply and erection – PGG will be able to diversify and compete in new sectors such as automotive, rail and construction.  Mr. Rogala expects this business to grow strongly in the short to medium term.

He concluded with a list of recommendations on the importance of the value chain linked to coal mining. This ensures stability and provides an opportunity for businesses to diversify into new areas in support of a successful transition with lower risks. The alternative would be costly, he said. The University of Economics in Katowice has calculated that over €50 billion would be needed simply to replace lost jobs in coal mining with jobs in other mature industrial sectors, such as automotive.

Responding to strident criticism from the many green NGOs present, EURACOAL President Rogala was open to a discussion on how coal could be replaced, but observed calmly that there were no viable alternatives currently on the table – only promises and rhetoric.

Over 250 stakeholders attended the Coal Regions in Transition Platform at the Albert Borschette Conference Centre in Brussels on 5 November 2018