October 28, 2015 / 2:48 PM / 4 years ago

INTERVIEW-Poland to dig in over coal, says potential energy minister

WARSAW, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Poland’s new government will fight even harder in the European Union to win concessions for its coal-based industry, said Piotr Naimski, tipped to lead the country’s energy ministry following last Sunday’s parliamentary election.

Ninety percent of Poland’s energy is generated from the highly-polluting coal and Warsaw has long opposed an EU drive to curb carbon emissions.

But the conservative, eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party, which won outright parliamentary majority in Sunday’s vote, could take an even harder line than the outgoing centre-right government.

Naimski said the new PiS government would fight “any obstacles” that would prevent Warsaw from sticking to coal rather than developing renewable energy sources.

“It’s too early to present detailed plans regarding energy policy or coal mining restructuring, but I can certainly say that our goal will be to ensure that the Polish energy industry in the long term relies on commodities available in Poland,” Naimski, who was deputy economy minister responsible for energy in a 2005/07 PiS-led governmen, told Reuters.

“We will remove any obstacles that would make it difficult for us to achieve this goal.”

PiS wants to renegotiate EU climate policies that oblige Poland to cut CO2 emissions by moving away from coal and introducing more renewables, a move that will upset many of Poland’s European partners.

A more combative stance on coal from Poland is all but certain to complicate global talks due to start in Paris on Nov. 30 to seek a worldwide climate deal beyond 2020.

MINERS AND UTILITIES

Poland’s troubled coal mining sector became a focal point ahead of the parliamentary election, with the government struggling to keep state mines afloat and avoid job cuts.

The outgoing government had struggled to rescue the troubled Kompania Weglowa (KW), the EU’s biggest coal miner, failing to help it to find investors who would provide much-needed capital.

“In the first place, we will have to look at what we find. We are prepared for the worst-case scenario, namely that there is no money for salaries in KW,” Naimski said.

One of the outgoing government’s ideas was to persuade state-run utilities to become shareholders in KW or buy some of its mines.

While it pressed Tauron to buy KW’s loss-making Brzeszcze mine, it failed to force the country’s utilities, including PGE, Enea and Energa, to invest in KW.

Naimski said the new PiS government would not seek to force utilities to inject money directly into KW.

“I am in favour of a functional connection between the two sectors. This could be done in many different ways, not necessarily by capital engagement,” he said, giving long-term contracts for coal supplies, joint investments or Tauron-like structure as potential examples.

“I am also not against consolidating power companies,” Naimski said, referring to the idea of creating Polish power champions able to compete on the European market. (Editing by Gabriela Baczynska and David Goodman)

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