PGE: local communities should be beneficiaries of the Just Transition Mechanism- participants of the Polish-Czech-German debate on the future of mining regions

09.07.2021
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Defining the challenges facing local governments, the need for cross-border cooperation and creating a new vision for the region and its inhabitants. The above are the main topics of the debate entitled "The shared future of mining regions located close to the border of PL-CZ-DE. Economy, Society, Environment”, which was organised on the 6th of July 2021 in Bogatynia at the initiative of PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna.

The starting point for the debate that took place at the Bogatynia Cultural Centre was the prospect of ending the lignite exploitation at the border of Poland, Czechia and Germany. Its participants, local government officials and experts in the field of energy, talked about the challenges and opportunities for the region, closely related to the energy and mining industry in the three neighbouring countries. Wojciech Dąbrowski, President of the Management Board of PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna, reminded at the beginning of the debate that there are many lignite opencast mines operating in the region today.

In total, there are as many as 10 lignite mines. Five on the Czech side, four on the German side and one on the Polish side, i.e. the Turów mine. They provide work for 50 thousand people. For the energy transition to be fair, it must be planned and executed in a coordinated manner - it must not be a “wildcat” transition. The energy sector modernization process and climate policy should not be out of touch with reality and people, therefore long-term planning based on specific “hard” investments and social programs financed from the Just Transition Funds is indispensable - said Wojciech Dąbrowski, President of the Management Board of PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna.

The special guest of the debate, the speech of whom preceded the discussion, was prof. Jerzy Buzek. The former Polish Prime Minister and President of the European Parliament pointed out that the needs of local communities should underpin the transition.

Our residents want affordable energy prices, and the prices may drop if we use the funds for the transition. People must be provided with what they expect, i.e. stable jobs, a clean environment and a safe supply of green energy  -  this is what the Just Transition supposed to mean - said Jerzy Buzek, Member of the European Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE).

Cooperation across three borders

The guests of the debate were divided into two panels. The first panel participants focused on the prospects of economic development of Polish, Czech and German mining regions, especially in the field of industry, renewable energy and tourism. Examples of the transition of mining regions in Spain, Germany and England were also refereed to by this panel. As the panellists pointed out, the key factor in this case is the cooperation of regional self-governments with real support provided by the European Union.

The Zgorzelec region with the Turów power plant should be supported by the Just Transition Fund. We have already received formal support for this idea from Prime Minister of Saxony, and similar support was provided by the Hejtman of Liberec Region in Czechia. We have to build a strategy of economic changes on the borderland. We are working on a strategy for the region - says Cezary Przybylski, Marshal of the Lower Silesia Province.

Only by working together can we respond properly to the challenges of the transition. This is what the people expect from us, because they see this border region as a mining area, and we need to change that. We operate between three cities - Berlin, Wrocław and Dresden. Therefore, we must create a common identity with active cultural and tourism cooperation. Adequate structures are needed and they are being currently developed within the framework of tripartite cooperation - added Markus Köhler, Managing Director of Nysa Euroregion (DE).

Like all EU countries, we are striving for decarbonisation and moving away from coal. The Czech so-called coal commission has set out scenarios for the end of coal mining, recommending a move away from this fuel in 2038. The transformation in the Czech Republic has already begun in the Moravian-Silesian Region, where not only severance payments, but also restructuring subsidies, paid monthly for five years, have been prepared for miners laid off from coal mines – says Pavlína Janiková, representative of Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic.

Dr. Frank Umbach, Scientific Director of European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS) at King's College in London agreed with the preceding speakers and emphasized the need to act on various levels.

Abandoning coal mining should not be implemented independently in Poland, Czechia and Germany. There is a need to look for common, forward-looking solutions on all levels - environmental, social and economic. It is cooperation that can ensure the common identity of the region, providing guarantee that the transition does not end at the border of my country. The energy transition is our shared future in each of the countries of the region - said Dr. Frank Umbach.

At the same time, the president of the management board of PGE, Wojciech Dąbrowski, pointed out that transition is a challenge related to energy security, but also huge financial needs.

The Just Transition Fund is to ensure the appropriate transition of regions and to help local communities to switch to other sectors. Remember, however, that the Just Transition Fund is only 17 billion Euro for the entire European Union, so an amount that is not enough to help achieving these goals in all mining regions. These funds are far from sufficient. We assume that the funds will be increased in the future and that MEPs from Poland, Czechia and Germany will seek further funds, adequate to the needs and challenges the transition will bring - said Wojciech Dąbrowski, President of the Management Board of PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna.

A new vision for the region

The participants of the second panel focused primarily on the inhabitants of the region and on the need to plan changes in an appropriate time horizon, while understanding the current situation and concerns of the borderland inhabitants.

The future of the region until 2050 will be shaped by people and the technologies they utilise, so by the local communities. The main goal is the prosperity and prospects for the inhabitants of the region, so that more jobs are created, green technologies are developed and people are able and willing to stay, work and live happily in this area. Several dozen years ago, all mines in nearby Wałbrzych were closed, which caused the city to collapse for decades. We must not allow to repeat the scenario - said MEP Anna Zalewska, member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament.

Social conscience is essential in the process of transition, because we still live off mining here. Therefore, the coal mine shutdown would be a devastating blow causing a social and economic disaster for Bogatynia. So, we are asking for time needed to carry out this just transition. Every day we create a vision of promising prospects until 2050 and we implement it to ensure a good future. We encounter many challenges, for example, heat and water for Bogatynia are provided by the Turów plant. Before we provide an alternative solution, we need time and investment and this is what Just Transition means to us - added Wojciech Dobrołowicz, Mayor of the Town and Commune of Bogatynia.

People first

Just like mentioned by prof. Jerzy Buzek, participants in the discussion emphasized the need to involve local communities and local government officials in the process of changes, with the support of central and EU authorities, and put aside political emotions.

Good preparation is necessary for transition and we have a transition plan developed together with the local community. You can see more and more photovoltaic panels and wind turbines around Zgorzelec. Lack of planning and rushing the transition process can lead to social failure. We see what was created on the German side near Goerlitz - a great, beautiful and attractive lake. This is how you have to act, let's use good examples of a successful transition - said Artur Bieliński, the Staroste of Zgorzelec.

We all have a shared interest to continue the transition on all three sides of the border. We should use each other's experiences like, for example, the water reservoir in Germany on the site of the former mine - it is a fantastic idea. You can hear voices of tourists in all three languages there - in Polish, Czech and German. We have networks of cross-border connections in the region that can be sustained through joint projects. We have already completed 500 projects together, related to various activities of firefighters, policemen, schools, road construction and cooperation between country housewives' clubs. This synergy must be utilised - says Piotr Roman, President of Bolesławiec and President of Nysa Euroregion (PL).

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