The Polish city of Katowice, will host the next UN World Climate Conference (COP24) on December 2. Poland is the European Union’s biggest producer of coal. Katowice is at the centre of this production. Polish governments have repeatedly defended coal-based energy.

But things are starting to change. The renewable energy sector has emerged rather ambitiously. However, a 2016 law created numerous obstacles to the development of the sector. For instance, it required that wind turbines are located a distance of ten times their height from any residential area.

Now some of the restrictions have been removed, putting the Polish wind energy sector is in high gear.

In an interview with European Interest, Janusz Gajowiecki, the chairman of the Polish Wind Energy Association (PSEW), explained the “timing” of the decision of the government. He said change started some time ago and is unrelated to COP24. However, there is still a lot more to do in terms of developing Poland’s renewable energy sector.

Gajowiecki also said he considers that the country’s coal sector and renewable energy market should not be viewed as competitors since they operate together successfully.

As for the Polish society, there is evidence of a growing sensitivity and a new favourable turn towards renewable energy.

European Interest: In 2016 was introduced by the Polish government a restrictive legislation that made the expansion of wind energy quite impossible. Now ahead of the COP24 World Climate Conference that opens on December 2 in Katowice, it is marked a change in that policy. What happened and the government changed its initial position?

Janusz Gajowiecki: First of all, not all of the restrictive legislation has been changed. Some of the rules are still valid and make it impossible to have a widespread development of onshore wind. Especially the rule about 10-times high turbines that make it impossible to have onshore green field investment in Poland. Nevertheless, we had a very important change in the autumn this year that makes our life much easier. First of all, the situation of the operating actions has been improved. Secondly, a third tender of the onshore wind has been set and the tender will take place on the 5th of November.

These are not just small moves before the COP24 in Poland. These are real changes in Poland’s renewable legislation that have taken place two months ago.

Are you satisfied with that?

As I said, this was the first important step forward with the legislation that has to be implemented in 2016. A lot of negative parts of the legislation have been changed. Nevertheless, there is still a lot to do. First of all, we are waiting forward for the second tender for onshore wind next year in 2019 to bring Poland closer to 2020 goal. Also, there are modifications to the permitting process within the existing context in the pipeline ready to build.

The EU has set itself an overall target of 20% green energy by 2020. Poland, must boost its overall use of renewable energy to at least 15% by 2020 under EU deals on emissions curbs. In what extend the wind energy sector can distribute on that?

The wind energy sector has a more important role to play in Poland since it offers the lowest price, cheapest source of renewable electricity and all possible generation lowered cost in Poland. There is no good sun in Poland – still with the sun in Poland there is a maximum of 10%.

So, wind is what can push our renewable call forward.

We believe that onshore wind has a possibility of 6 GW until 2035 and offshore wind of 6 GW until 2030 and 8.5 GW until 2035. And beyond of this there is a possibility of a basic potential of even 14 GW of import capacity of offshore wind until 2050.

Which are the major problems the Polish wind energy sector faces? Are there plans on how to confront that problems?

Today the major problem is with the permissions. The legal aspect is the most important concerning the offshore wind and the green infrastructure that has to be in place first for the green connection of the offshore wind farm. Special planning of offshore wind is in process at this moment, the consultation process is in the process and we have to work as an industry to have much localisation of the offshore wind – to fight for this 14 GW in 2050.

A part of the coal industry which is the strongest energy competitor of the wind energy sector in Poland?

There are no competitors. We don’t call them competitors. We work together with the coal industry and would like to work together in synergy. We cannot be the only source of electricity in Poland or onshore or offshore wind. We need some background production when there is no wind at all or there is no sun. We believe that coal will support the system and what we are here for is to make the CO2 reduction on a very high level. Due to coal production there is a lot of CO2 emissions. And we can reduce it.

Is there any change in the behaviour of the Polish society towards renewables?

I think that the position of the Polish society is very clear now. Polish society is looking into the renewables, it is aware about production based in coal in Poland and aware of climate change. The situation of the smog in Polish cities is dramatic – it’s the highest in Europe. This has made people look for information and education. That’s why people are looking more and more into renewables. Next year we are planning a large campaign about wind energy in Poland, how it can impact the Polish energy model and how it can help the climate.