Special Reports / Liberty, climate, electricity!

Liberty, climate, electricity!

Kacper Szulecki · 28 May 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Already in the 1970s, the Polish United Workers Party leadership dreamed of energy might. In the era of General Jaruzelski’s junta, the construction of a nuclear power plant at Żarnowiec was started. Lately, again we’ve been hearing of returning to ideas from the Communist era. Meanwhile, new phenomena emerge around us – ones that we can hardly understand if we merely draw on the past.

European integration based on economy, politics, a revolution of European citizens and a common cultural memory founded on the critical assessment of both totalitarianisms – all this has been debated many times, but integration through energy? Now that is something new!

And yet here we are witnessing the birth of a new era. The inevitable depletion of resources, of coal and oil, on which the industrial aged and the modern global economy were constructed, is discussed across Europe. Meanwhile, scientists continually remind us of humanity’s role in the progressing climate change.

Let us look at Germany: already under the SPD-Greens coalition of 1998-2005 the decision had been taken for a gradual transformation of the energy sector, on nuclear phase-out and the increase of the share of renewable energy sources (RES) in electricity generation. The Fukushima meltdown accelerated that process. After over a decade since it was initiated and almost two years after it switched to turbo-gear, the German energy turnaround, known as the Energiewende, seems not only feasible, but most of all – very inspiring. Issues seemingly addressing the hermetic realm of technology are becoming the talk of town, in the media, at cafesand homes all across the nation, from Kiel to Constance. The Germans turned their energy transformation into a project comparable with sending a man to the Moon.

In many European countries, however, that “new industrial revolution” causes much anxiety. In Poland it is rather depicted as an irrational if not – insane plan for de-industrialization and perhaps even economic suicide. No wonder: Energiewende’s success would question many of our country’s policies, particularly the unnerving bravado of the Polish government’s nuclear project, already difficult to justify from an economic and environmental point of view.

Renewable energy is being developed in Poland too; however, it seems to grow somewhat parallel and even contrary to state policy. The decisions of Donald Tusk’s government are turning more and more surprising and seem to growingly go against the values that the ruling coalition declares to hold dear. Although the ritual flogging of the government with critique has now become something of a fad, in this case one really needs to take the questions deeper. Why are we seeing the work on a provisionary piece of legislation known as the “small energy three-pack”, while the draft RES Act has been postponed once again? The draft contains, among others, German-inspired solutions which would allow individual citizens to turn into “prosumers” – that is at the same time consumers of energy from the grid, and producers of energy owning small and micro renewable installations (e.g. solar). Why was this project, liberal in its spirit, and allowing for the implementation of the ideals of a de-centralized and “democratic” energy production – thrashed?

The German expert in energy economics, Claudia Kemfert, in an interview opening today’s issue, puts forth a powerful thesis: we have forty years of struggle over electricity ahead of us. What does that mean? Kemfert sees the Federal Republic’s resignation from nuclear energy in favor of renewables as the key issue in contemporary politics – and perceives it in moral terms and through responsibility for civilization. But what should we make of the growing share of coal power plants in Germany (meaning: a step back into the former era)? See for yourselves.

We asked two experts Wojciech Jakóbik i Grzegorz Wiśniewski about the Government’s policy. It would be difficult to imagine two accounts as divergent as the ones we got. Jakóbik picks the German energy transformation to pieces. The Federal Republic has betrayed the ideals of a bottom-up transition for the benefit of the citizens and instead is implementing a top-down transformation, he argues. He also defends Poland’s energy policy, explaining why he sees it as rational and aiming at independence.

Grzegorz Wiśniewski, however, points out the four million “civic” renewable installations in Germany. Poland, according to him, is not going in the direction of its neighbor, because the breakthrough in energy is held back by various lobbies. Such as energy companies – and although they should be implementing the state’s energy policy, in reality the state is realizing the interests of the energy business – he asserts. Furthermore, he shows why he believes that the parting of ways between Germany and Poland in the energy sector might be in the long run harmful for the latter.

Jakub Patočka too writes of government-business relations that are far from ideal, as he presents the “Švejk style Energiewende, meaning the ongoing corruption scandal over RES development in the Czech Republic. In the realm of energy policy, writes Patočka, an Iron Curtain is still cutting Europe in half, and it is about time we decided which side we want to be on.

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This Topic of the Week is another one in the series prepared together by the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation and “Kultura Liberalna” within the framework of the Polish-German project on the future of the European Union.

The issues published thus far:  “Should Germany sacrifice itself for the EU?” with texts by Ivan Krastev, Clyde Prestowitz, Karolina Wigura and Gertrud Höhler; “Europe is a club of humiliated empires”, the only interview with Peter Sloterdijk in the Polish press in years; as well as “The Dream of the Welfare State” with texts by Wolfgang Streeck, Richard Sennett, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski and Łukasz Pawłowski. More issues coming soon!

Enjoy your reading!

Kacper Szulecki


Concept of the issue: Kacper Szulecki.

Collaboration: Jakub Krzeski.

Coordination of the project on the side of „Kultura Liberalna”: Ewa Serzysko.

Coordination on the part of the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation: Monika Różalska.

English editing: Patrick Kozakiewicz.

Illustrations: Przemysław Gast