December 8, 2018 / 10:29 AM / 6 days ago

Polish miner PGG plans new mine as U.N. seeks end to coal era

* PGG CEO says concerned about planet, sees need to change

* Poland not ready to end coal use until has alternative

* Transition plan includes supplying services, gasification

By Anna Koper and Barbara Lewis

KATOWICE, Poland, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Polish state-owned PGG, the European Union’s biggest producer of thermal coal, said it plans to sink a new mine near where U.N. talks to wean the world off fossil fuels are taking place.

The Imielin North project, around 20 kilometres from Katowice, would cost at least 1.5 billion zloty ($400 million), with up to half the funding provided by PGG, its chief executives Tomasz Rogala told Reuters.

Poland’s president said this week he would not allow anyone “to murder coal”, outraging many of the thousands of delegates representing nearly 200 countries at the conference.

Rogala expects the new mine to be completed in around five years’ time and have a reserve base of 60 million tonnes. That compares with PGG’s annual output of around 30 million tonnes.

While coking coal is on the EU list of strategic minerals because of its use in steel, coal for power generation is more difficult to justify.

Rogala said he understands the need to move on from coal, but alternative sources must be in place first.

“I have pressure to find new business,” he said, adding that when effective electricity storage was developed, coal generation would be obsolete.

Large-scale battery storage is a holy grail for those who favour green energy, as it would make wind and solar power as reliable as coal, nuclear and gas.

“It (battery storage) can change everything. The first effective electricity storage will end coal generation,” Rogala said.

“We have to stop climate change. But I don’t agree that European coal is responsible (alone), as the greatest use of coal is elsewhere,” he added.

Poland’s coal output has shrunk by 100 million tonnes over the last 40 years, Rogala said, while global production has at least doubled and electricity demand has kept rising.

For now, Rogala said Poland needs the fuel because it does not have nuclear generation and it does not want to depend on imports from Russia, which have been rising.

PGG has a transition plan which includes supplying its technical services, such as precision welding, to other Polish industries and producing gas from coal for energy and as a feedstock for the chemical industry.

Rogala said the aim is a transition that will create jobs with salaries equivalent to coal, which in Silesia are around 50 percent better paid than the average. ($1 = 3.7679 zlotys) ($1 = 0.8782 euros) (Editing by Alexander Smith)

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