Black Rock

The future’s bright, the future’s Orange – so said the well- known advertising slogan from 1994.  For Poland, nineteen years later, the future’s brown and black. At least that is the view of the Donald Tusk the Polish Prime Minister speaking at the International Fair of Mining Power Industry and Metallurgy in Katowice earlier this week.

Quite sensibly – which makes a change in a politician – the Prime Minister said that Poland will continue to support coal and to invest in the coal mining industry.  Donald Tusk foresees a Polish economy based on coal but utilising new technology so that CO2 emissions would be reduced in line with EU targets.  While Poland is exploring the potential of shale gas, a new LNG terminal is being constructed on the Baltic coast, and a nuclear plant is under consideration, coal and shale gas remain at the forefront.  Donald Tusk made it clear that the future of Polish energy is in brown and black coal, as well as shale gas.  Energy independence – especially reducing dependence on imports of gas from Russia – requires both a diversity of energy resources and making the most of Poland’s own resources.  At present 90 per cent of Poland’s electricity is generated from coal and the industry employs over 100,000 people so, for once, common sense and political expediency meet.

One only has to compare the Polish approach to that of the United Kingdom (mentioned in Atlantic Adventure) to see how much more sensible is the former.  Despite years of warning successive UK governments have failed to address the looming power shortages and are busily closing down coal fired generating plant in the reckless pursuit of some self-imposed green agenda manifest in a religious fervor for all things renewable fervor however lacking in practical or economic sense burdening energy consumers with ever increasing costs for ever more precarious and foreign dominated supply.  Indeed, even Germany long a pioneer of all things green is building new coal fired generating plant as it retreats from nuclear power, spooked by events in Japan.  It is sad how the UK, a pioneer in nuclear power, should now see littering the landscape with wind turbines and converting power stations to burn bio mass as a sensible policy.  Much as I enjoy history – Chaucer would recognize lorries carrying wood chip to be burnt in power stations – this mediaeval reliance on burning wood and the wind turbine fetish belong in the dark ages to which we will doubtless return if we don’t follow a more sensible line like Poland.  Of course this is wholly in keeping with approach of successive UK governments over the last century– Mrs Thatcher’s being the (partial) exception in their head long rush to dissipate the national treasure and advantage accumulated by the predecessors over generations.  The UK is an island of coal in a sea of fish and what don’t we produce ourselves from our own resources: coal and fish.  I rest my case.

Be that as it may, even the EU is beginning to wake up to its folly.  The European Parliament has backed proposals to limit the amount of food crops used to produce biofuel reducing from 10 per cent to 6 per cent the target for the amount of bio fuels used in transport by 2020.  This is higher that the EU commission’s proposed 5 per cent cap but it is a welcome belated recognition that public subsidies for food-based biofuels in the EU encourage their cultivation on land that could otherwise be used for food production and that continuing with the current level of EU incentives for food-based biofuels would actually cancel out the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions achieved by switching to biofuels.  Meanwhile, a systemic industrial massacre is on the cards according to Antonio Tajani the European industry commissioner who has warned that Europe’s quixotic (remember the Don’s tilting at windmills) dash for renewables was pushing electricity costs to untenable levels, leaving Europe struggling to compete as America’s shale revolution cuts US natural gas prices by 80pc.  In his words we have to stop pretending, because we can’t sacrifice Europe’s industry for climate goals that are not realistic, and are not being enforced worldwide.  European president Herman Van Rompuy has echoed the growing sense of alarm, saying it is top EU priority to slash energy costs. Compared to US competitors, European industry now pays twice as much for electricity, and four times as much for gas and EU companies are not receiving the rewards for being more efficient.  Of course, it would help if he could get the EU Commission house in order: the industry and environment directorates are working against each other since with the Commission’s draft paper on shale expected next month new EU legislation could in theory stop Britain, Poland, and others going ahead with fracking (although only HMG would be daft enough to comply).

And there you have it: if the future is indeed orange then black is the new orange and, in the words of Mrs. Thatcher: Rejoice at that news!

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