In the beginning of December, in my role as coordinator of the EUKI project for Bulgaria, I led a group of Bulgarian representatives to the Polish coal region of Silesia for a fact-finding mission. The participants in the group were representatives of the trade unions, CITUB and KT Podkrepa, the mayor of Bobov Dol and the head of the European Programmes Department at the municipality of Bobov Dol.
The programme of the visit was quite varied and useful for all participants. Bobov Dol’s mayor, Ms. Velichkova, made a speech at a Bankwatch side event during the 24th annual UN Conference on Climate Change in Katowice. Ms. Velichkova very clearly highlighted the problems that have emerged in coal mining-dependent municipalities since the closure of the coal mines that had for decades provided livelihoods for the people in the region. She emphasized the need for urgent funding specifically targeted towards the transition of coal-dependent regions to a more diversified economic development model that provides employment opportunities for laid-off former coal miners.
In Katowice, the Bulgarian group met with Mr. Piotr Brozek, a representative of the Silesian Voivodeship (province). He spoke about the damage caused by the coal industry, the potential for development of the region beyond the coal industry and towards low-carbon economy.
At the Central Mining Institute in Katowice (https://www.gig.eu/en), Deputy Director Engineer Jan Bondaruk, emphasized in his presentation that much of the Institute’s scientific work focuses on energy efficiency, protection of the environment and renewable energy sources (RES). This Institute is definitely getting prepared for the end of the coal industry.
The meeting at the Makoszowy mine was particularly emotional and interesting for the participants from Bulgaria. Andrzej Chwiluk, chairman of the Mining Union, said that two years ago there had been an agreement between the Polish government, the mines and the trade unions that the mine would be restructured, so that its exploitation could continue. After the new government came into power they declared the mine’s liquidation and closed it down.
According to the union leader and his deputies Jerzy Hubka and Piotr Promny, there is no economic sense in closing down that coal mine; the government has illegally broken the agreement signed by its predecessors. The current government’s plans are to close down nine more coal mines. They told us how two years ago former Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, standing in the square right in front of the mine’s entrance, had stated that there would be a future for the miners there and that the coal mine would continue to operate. This example immediately reminded me of the cheerful statements made by Bulgarian Energy Minister, Teodora Petkova, in front of the protesting energy workers from Maritza East, when she told them that no workers would be laid off. That is a promise which cannot be fulfilled.
Our meetings in the coal town of Katowice continued with a visit to the Euro-Centrum Science and Technology Business Park (http://pnt.euro-centrum.com.pl/), set up in 2008 using European funds from the Competitiveness Operational Program. The main scientific developments of this Science Park are in the field of energy efficiency of buildings and new RES technologies. Our hosts were very proud to demonstrate their Center for Testing of Modern Technologies for Heating and Solar Systems, equipped with a solar simulator (the so-called “artificial sun”) to study the quality and durability of solar collectors. A passive building, completed in 2013 with European funds, won the European Commission’s 2013 Green Building Award for most energy-efficient building. So far the Euro-Centrum Group has restored more than 6 hectares of abandoned industrial sites, having built 5 new buildings and modernized 10 existing facilities, thus providing offices for over 100 companies, which require an appropriate number of employees. Clearly, in this example, they too are incorporating reduced dependence on coal into their planning
The next stop of our tour in Silesia was in the town of Imielin (http://www.imielin.pl/). There we met with the mayor of the city, the chairman of the municipal council, members of the council and active citizens. An interesting fact is that the city mayor, Mr Jan Chwiędacz, has been re-elected by his fellow citizens for the past 21 years, including in the last local elections in October 2018. The mayor and the councilors spoke about the impotence of local citizens and local authorities to oppose the expansion of the nearby coal mine Ziemowit. Although the town has over 9000 inhabitants, only 200 of them currently work in the mine, while in the 1980s, over 1800 people used to work there. Most residents are employed in well-functioning small businesses, unrelated to coal. The mine’s operation cracks and destroys their houses, and pollutes the water and their environment. Citizens and mayors have repeatedly protested to central authorities, writing complaints and initiating litigation against the decision to extend the mine’s concession. They argue that there is no economic sense in this expansion, because the coal is of poor quality and increasingly deeper digging is required in order to get to it. However, so far the inhabitants of Imielin have had no success in their quest to preserve their homes and their town. Although over 70% of the population is opposed to it, the government has granted the concession for the expansion of the mine.
For the first time in the 24-year-long history of UN conferences on climate change, a Bulgarian mayor has made a speech and has had an opportunity to lay out the problems experienced by local governments at such a high-level forum. Ms. Velichkova, Mayor of Bobov Dol, lived up to this task perfectly.
Meetings in the Silesian region and with the mayor of Imielin may be very useful in assisting Bobov Dol to participate in joint European funding initiatives for coal regions in transition.
In Poland we saw various examples of reactions to expected trends in the coal industry – by central government, businesses, local authorities and citizens. Clearly, there is opposition from different interest groups to continued dependency on coal.
It appears that the politicians’ favorite thing in Poland, as well as in Bulgaria, is to divide and set people against each other when it comes to the future of the coal industry.
I got the impression that, despite the Polish government’s solid statements in support of this industry, Polish authorities have nevertheless used European funds and programmes throughout the years in order to develop regions beyond coal, reclaim land and develop energy efficiency and RES technologies.
Perhaps the Bulgarian government should be interested also in this aspect of the Polish experience, and not focus just on the scramble for more free emissions for coal-fired power plants.