The Północ Power Plant is one of the largest coal projects in Europe. If it opens in 2020, it will have a capacity of 1.6 gigawatts, run on hard coal, and emit 9 million tons of CO2 annually. This power plant alone will emit more than what neighbouring Latvia does.
Poland’s richest Pole was behind the project until July 2015, when he died suddenly due to complications after surgery. Ironically, he claimed to be deeply committed to environmental matters. Jan Kulczyk, owner of Polenergia who was to build the Północ plant, became famous for stating that “unless we start to eliminate the sources of global environmental risks today, tomorrow they will eliminate us.” Kulczyk chaired the Board of Directors of Green Cross International, a respected environmental organization, and was also a member of the UN’s Climate Change Task Force.
His declarations and engagement in the work of these organizations did not translate into his business decisions. Campaigners in Poland fear that the realisation of Północ will lock the country further into fossil fuels. They also expect the project to spoil beautiful Pomeranian landscape, pollute water and air, affecting the well-being of the citizens of the region, and threaten historical heritage, like the monumental Malbork castle listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Challenging Północ on legal grounds
The campaign STOP Północ Power Plant started in 2011. First and foremost, local and national environmental NGOs engaged in legal proceedings concerning granting permits to the investment. The Association Workshop for All Beings, ClientEarth Poland, Greenpeace Poland, WWF Poland and two associations of local citizens teamed up. They argued that the project has been flawed from the very start of the planning stage, and they managed to challenge Północ on environmental and procedural grounds.
In 2013, five NGOs submitted a complaint about the environmental impact assessment permit issued for the plant. Granted conditions of water waste discharge to the Vistula River would have irretrievably resulted in a destruction of its wildlife, in particular of migratory fish species. The complaint was successful and the authorities affirmed partial invalidity of the permit.
Moreover, the investor failed to fulfil obligations to precisely assess air and water pollution from the power plant, lowering estimated negative impact and thus putting health of local citizens at a serious risk. On these grounds, in 2011 the ‘integrated pollution prevention and control permit’ for the project was repealed. It is a permit required by law for all industrial activities with a high pollution potential.
In 2015, the building permit has been appealed by six NGOs and 29 local citizens for similar reasons. According to health and environmental scientists who support the campaign, the costs from air pollution from the power plant can be estimated at 100 to 300 million euros annually. Campaigners state that these costs have hardly been reflected in the analysis carried out by the company.
Another major controversy surrounds access of the public to the decision making process for the plant. According to the campaigners, local citizens have had limited possibility to receive information, raise their concerns and take part in the legal proceedings. “Północ Power Plant will lower our quality of life and threaten our health,” says Radoslaw Sawicki who represents local farmers from the Ecological – Cultural Association ‘Common Land’. “It is unacceptable that the public is not seriously involved in such an important decision making process. Granting permits for this investment happens at the expense of inhabitants of the region and behind their backs. This is unfair”.
The campaigners have been successful in raising public awareness of the negative impacts of the plant and alternative scenarios for developing energy system in the region. In 2014 they organized debates and street actions in a few cities in Pomerania, explaining the numerous benefits of renewable sources of energy to citizens and tourists.
“We promote the idea of energy democracy,” explains Dariusz Szwed from the Green Institute, an organization that supports the campaign through public outreach. “What we want is that instead of one coal or nuclear giant owned by a monopolist, thousands of small, socialized facilities producing energy from renewable sources are built. Let’s imagine hundred thousands of micro-installations on roofs and in backyards all over Pomerania, the facilities producing energy for the citizens and bringing about independence from energy corporations.”
The campaign has also gained international recognition, thanks to cooperation with the global movement 350.org. Over 8200 people from all over the world signed a petition to Jan Kulczyk, appealing for his withdrawal from plans to build Północ Power Plant. In May 2014 an exceptional guest – Pinocchio – handed the petition to the representatives of the investor.
“Reactions to our petitions show that thousands of people from all around the world are watching activities of Kulczyk Investments and notice huge discrepancy between promises and actual deeds.” Diana Maciaga from Association Workshop for All Beings, coordinator of the petition puts her hope on international pressure from the public. “This is precisely why we decided that the petition will be delivered by Pinocchio. Together with the international community we appealed to the billionaire for keeping his promises and investing in clean renewable energy sources, instead of building a new coal power plant.”
Up to the investor
Currently the fate of Północ Power Plant hangs in the balance. It is unclear what will happen with the project after the sudden death of its sponsor. Moreover, even before the owner of this investment envisaged selling it in 2016 after having obtained all the permits needed to execute the project. Meanwhile, the fact that manifest errors in the permits have been exposed makes it unlikely that this project will have got the necessary documents in due time set by the investor.
“The investor’s decision confirms what the NGOs have been saying for a long time,” says Radosław Ślusarczyk from the STOP Północ Power Plant campaign. “In the era of climate protection and rapid development of renewable energy building, a new coal-fired power plant is simply unprofitable. Current economic reality makes coal history, which the shareholders are perfectly aware of. It is high time that the investors abandon projects harmful to both, humans and the environment, and instead support energy of the 21st century. Energy that is clean and safe for the region.”