Green Deal, not a Grim Deal!
The ongoing transformation of the Turów energy complex is a fact, and investments that reduce the environmental impact of the mine are carried out both in the field of mining and energy production. The long-term process of energy transition requires consistent measures, which are carried out in Turów for many years and have already costed hundreds of millions of Polish zlotys. Moreover, other steps are planned for the next decades, in accordance with the principles of the Energy Policy of Poland until 2040 adopted by the Polish government in February this year, as well as in the spirit of the European Green Deal, which includes energy transition in all the countries of the European Union.
In view of its specific cross-border location, the Turów mine, in order to build lasting relations with its neighbours, has been carrying out investment activities for many years in order to minimise its impact on the surrounding lands. They focus on reducing dust and noise pollution, as well as protecting surface and deep water. The projects are consistent with the legal concession, which was preceded by the preparation of a comprehensive environmental report identifying each aspect of the environmental impact of the mine. The environmental report has been consulted for more than five years, in accordance with the requirements of Polish and Community law, as well as in the framework of cross-border consultations. It covers in detail issues relating to dust and noise, as well as surface and deep-water protection; it also identifies measures that have been or will be taken to minimise as much as possible the impact of the mine on the surrounding area.
The total cost of investments undertaken between 2016 and 2021 and aimed at reduction of the environmental impact of the mine amounted to almost 90 million zlotys.
The most recent pro-environmental investment of the mine is the construction of an anti-filtration screen which protects the neighbouring areas on the Czech side of the border from potential groundwater outflow. Its purpose is to protect the drinking water intakes in the Czech Uhelna village, located in close proximity to the Turów complex. Based on the findings of the Czech and Polish parties, as defined in the environmental decision, an underground barrier – which provides additional protection of the water relations at the border of both countries and costs several million zlotys – is being installed. The anti-filtration screen with a length of approximately 1,100 meters and a width of approximately 1 metre is installed at depths of 65 to 117 meters using several hundred holes and injection technology. The investment will be ready in the autumn of this year. After commissioning, the effectiveness of the underground shutter will be monitored by hydrogeologists from both Poland and the Czech Republic. The anti-filtration screen will allow even more precise monitoring of the impact of the Turów mine on the frontier water resources, which have been supervised by Polish-Czech and Polish-German specialist teams for many years. The current network comprises about 550 sites for measuring the groundwater mirror, of which more than 150 are part of the Polish-Czech and Polish-German measuring network.
A similar, much longer underground barrier of more than 4 kilometres has been in operation for many years on the mine site along the border with Germany, protecting the waters of Nysa Łużycka from entering the mine and it meets its aim in 100 percent. In 2017, the extension of the third mine water treatment located by the Ślad stream, worth 43 million zlotys, was completed and the site was equipped with a sludge dewatering system.
Mine and plant workers also carry out continuous monitoring of both noise and dust concentrations. In 2016–2020, the mine invested nearly 15 million zlotys in the successive replacement of conveyor pulleys for more modern, ‘silent circulation’ pulleys with better acoustic characteristics. On the other hand, dust emissions are primarily reduced by intensive sprinkling at loading bays and loading points and additional road spraying in the area of the deposit. For several years, the coal deposit area has been covered by the Turów mine by a comprehensive system of minimisation measures. In the years 2013–2017, the deposit technological system was equipped with a water sprinkler system. In the years 2016–2020, a system of more than 200 misting nozzles, an automatic system on transport tracks and a fixed road sprinkler system were installed at the cost of 6 million zlotys. The investment has contributed significantly to eliminating the problem of dusting: its accuracy, verified by specific studies, reached around 98%. Work is currently under way to build an anti-wind screen aimed at reducing unorganised emissions from the coal deposit by reducing wind power in its surroundings. The estimated cost of the investment is around 20 million zlotys.
These and many other central investments made in the framework of the energy transformation of the complex in Turów have contributed significantly to water protection, air quality improvements and the elimination of noise caused by the installations working. In May 2021, one of the most modern 450 MW energy blocks in Europe was launched, providing about 1 million customers with stable energy supplies necessary for the long-term energy and economic transformation of the region. The block, which replaced the previously excluded old blocks no 8, 9 and 10, meets the strictest EU emission standards. In comparison to them, sulphur dioxide emissions are almost 20 times lower and particulate emissions are almost 10 times lower. In addition, the carbon dioxide emission of the new block is approximately 15% lower than in the case of the older blocks. The newly-launched power block in Turów is one of the key elements of the national electricity system and of the power market in Poland – already accepted by the European Commission. As a result of the auctions, from 2021 this block will play a very important role in the national energy security system until low-carbon and stable generation capacity becomes available in the system.
Threat to the Polish energy system
Closure of the mine means the immediate exclusion of the entire energy complex in Turów, which supplies up to 7 percent of the energy consumed in Poland. The electricity produced in Turów reaches up to 3 million households. The exclusion of extraction and production of electricity obviously has to undermine the Polish energy system, which will not be able to replace rapidly the liquidated generation capacity in Turów. Just transition of the European energy was supposed to make the grim scenarios of lack of electricity in the system never come true.
Collapse of the regional economy
The Turów basin has recently been providing orders for nearly 3,000 suppliers and subcontractors of the mine and the power plant. Only in the last two years alone, the mining and energy complex has concluded contracts with outside companies – mostly small and medium-sized Polish companies – totalling the value of about 5.5 billion zlotys. In addition to the liquidation of the market for thousands of companies operating in the Turów environment, the closure of the mine would result in further losses of about 13.5 billion zlotys. The preliminary estimates indicate that this amount would result in, among others, the need to dismiss thousands of workers and also by the losses resulting from the huge investments already made for ecological modernisation in the recent years. The vision of the closure of the mine and thus the power plant actually means wasting years of effort and huge investments undertaken to create the opportunity to spread the energy transformation over time. This process is undoubtedly necessary, but it cannot take place at any cost, and certainly not at the cost of an irreversible socio-economic disaster on the Polish side of the border.