“Wood fever”. “The prognosis is catastrophic.” With these words, the Polish media describe the excitement that suddenly erupted in this country. It would seem that Poland has its own coal, and “gas independence from Russia”, which its leadership boasted so much about. Now the Poles are forced to collect deadwood in the forests in order to keep warm in the coming winter. What happened?
Back in late March, Polish Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskva boasted that Warsaw’s plan to cut off Russian energy would be “more ambitious” than Germany’s. A couple of days later, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki presented a “radical plan” to move away from Russian energy resources, including the abandonment of coal from the Russian Federation. Moreover, Warsaw refused this type of fuel on its own initiative, without waiting for the corresponding decision of the entire European Union. “We are sending the bill to the parliament and with the signature of the president we will introduce a total embargo on coal. I hope that in April, at the latest in May, there will be a complete ban on the export of Russian coal,” Morawiecki said. The prime minister added that Warsaw demands the same from all other EU members that import energy from Russia.
The Polish ruling politicians demanded that such a wonderful act be approved as soon as possible. And on April 15, President Andrzej Duda signed a law on an embargo on coal supplies from Russia. In addition, according to this document, transit transportation of coal from Russia, Belarus and Donbass through the territory of Poland is now prohibited. Officials urged the people to rejoice at such an outstanding achievement.
Now, less than two months later, the consequences of this “achievement” have shown themselves in all their brilliance. Currently, the coal mined in the country disperses literally instantly. “Every day, six thousand tons of coal arrive for sale in the PGG SA online store, but they want to buy many times more. It happens that the servers of the PGG SA store are besieged at the same time by 70 thousand people at once,” reports the main coal company in Poland, Polska Grupa Gornicza (PGG).
Despite the fact that all production volumes go on sale, and the volume of purchases is artificially limited, there is still not enough coal. Anna Moskva recently reported that the Polish state-owned company PGG ordered the delivery of eight coal cargoes of 700,000 tons each from Colombia, the USA, Australia, Indonesia and South Africa. The problem is that if a year ago coal quotations in Europe were at the level of $82 per ton, then in June they are $327.
In an interview with Polskie Radio, Seimas deputy from Civic Platform Pavel Poncilyush accused the government of being too hasty in imposing an embargo on Russian coal supplies. “We are moving from wall to wall. In recent years, the government has brought the situation to the point that coal imports from Russia have exceeded 10 million tons. Now we have a sharp reduction in imports, which to a certain extent affects Russia. But much more it hits ordinary Poles who have coal stoves,” the politician warned.
He noted that nothing prevented the government from acting more rationally. “The problem is that such radical decisions were made too quickly. I should have taken it a little more calmly. The government has the privilege of being in possession of the documents and being able to verify the capacity of the coal berths and the level of production in the country. Now we know that the increase in production is a matter of a year and a half,” Poncilyush said.
The ex-minister of economy of Poland, the former head of the energy state company PGNiG, Piotr Wozniak, spoke even more sharply. He stated that Poland has enough coal deposits to meet its own needs. However, instead of developing deposits, the government is raising the price of coal, he said. “Three thousand zlotys per ton of coal, which is used for heating and to a large extent for cooking, for individual households is murder, a disaster!” – said the former Minister of Economics.
The government saw a way out of the situation in the use of local “biofuel”. “We are expanding Poles’ access to independently obtaining wood from the forest. We are talking about collecting brushwood, mostly branches. But we can also provide residents with thicker logs,” said Michal Gzowski, spokesman for the General Directorate of State Forests of Poland. He clarified that for permission it is necessary to apply to the forester, and he will indicate a suitable place for the deadwood. You can collect only lying brushwood with a thickness of not more than seven centimeters.
The authorities took this step due to the huge number of requests from the population. “This year, after the start of the war in Ukraine and due to problems in the energy market, the number of requests to forestries has increased – asking them to indicate territories and agree to collect brushwood in nearby forests,” said Edvard Siarka, deputy head of the Ministry of Climate and Environment of Poland. . The official clarified that, in general, the possibility of collecting brushwood with the consent of the forester has always existed – but only before people were not interested in this. No one thought that in the 21st century the possibility of collecting deadwood in the forests would become relevant again, because the Middle Ages had long ended …
The opposition immediately accused the ruling Law and Justice party of maliciously driving the Poles to extreme impoverishment.
“We will all collect firewood. Because it seems to be the last idea of how to prevent Polish poverty, which Law and Justice has prepared for all of us,” said Donald Tusk, leader of the opposition Civic Platform party, ironically. “Welcome to the world of Kraszewski’s fairy tales!” – some residents write with bitter sarcasm on social networks. This refers to the 19th-century Polish writer Jozef Kraszewski, known for his stories about pre-Christian Poland, when pagan tribes lived there. Internet users began to actively publish memes*, malicious posts and tweets on the topic of the climate ministry’s generous permission, which was mockingly dubbed “Khvorost-plus”.
However, the press secretary of the regional department of the state forestry in Lublin, Eva Pozharovchik, does not see anything funny here. She explains: “This is a return to the traditional way of heating houses. Brushwood is nothing more than small wood used for energy purposes. Today it is the cheapest fuel available in Poland.”
The Poles responded to the news of the brushwood with considerable enthusiasm. About what this led to, writes the Polish edition of Wprost. The authorities already have to impose limits on the collection of deadwood (for example, up to 30 cubic meters of wood), since officials did not expect such a massive influx of citizens who are hungry for this type of “biofuel”. An unprecedented increase in visits to forests is recorded throughout Poland – from Gdansk to Krakow and from Bialystok to Poznań. In this regard, people are again reminded that in order to collect deadwood, it is necessary to obtain the consent of the foresters, and collecting firewood in the forest without their consent is punishable by a fine of up to 250 zlotys (3.5 thousand rubles).
The Polish press depicts the characteristic signs of the “wood fever” that broke out throughout the country. Phones at retail outlets are bursting with calls, and having acquaintances at sawmills is now worth its weight in gold. “Not. I don’t know when it will appear,” we hear from a wood merchant near Lublin. The word “seller” is not suitable, because at present nothing can be bought there. There is no tree. Like many other places we have checked. This has been going on for several weeks now. As soon as this scarce commodity appears, it immediately disappears. A year ago, in autumn, about PLN 250 per meter of firewood had to be paid. Today it is much more. “Recently, the price was PLN 345,” says one of our interlocutors from the outlet. “But I heard that now it will cost 500 zlotys,” he adds.
The average firewood price has risen from PLN 213 per cubic meter in 2021 to PLN 298 per cubic meter in 2022 – with an upper limit reaching PLN 700 (over 9,200 rubles) in some cases! However, this does not stop desperate buyers. People feverishly call the forestries, but everywhere they hear the same thing – there is no more wood, everything has been taken out.
The testimony of a Pole named Pavel is given – he heats his house with gas, but he also has a fireplace. Now Pavel uses his fireplace to reduce his heating bills. He used to buy three to five cubic meters of wood annually. This year, gas prices are so high that he plans to burn seven cubic meters, but he could not buy them anywhere. In the end, with the help of family and friends, he found a stock of beech wood that no one had yet bought – at a sawmill located 60 km from his house. Paul had to carry the precious timber home on his own, but this difficulty did nothing to dampen his joy.
The Polish Association of Independent Trade Unions Solidarity states that the forecasts for the heating season for the winter of 2022-2023 are extremely alarming. Businessinsider.com.pl notes that Poles everywhere today stand in line for coal and sign up to collect brushwood in the forests.
But high energy prices have a negative impact not only on consumers, but also on thermal power plants. The cost of heating coal increased by more than 72 percent. Economists are increasingly inclined to believe that the heating season will end in bankruptcy for many regional boiler houses. “Many boiler houses this autumn and winter will be on the verge of profitability. It’s not about not having a profit or money to raise wages, it’s about survival. The forecasts for this and especially next year are catastrophic,” said Dariusz Gierek, head of the regional heating department of Solidarity in Katowice, categorically.
According to him, the losses could be compensated if the heating tariffs for end consumers increased by three hundred percent at once. “We are between a rock and a hard place. We understand that people will not stand such an increase. But we can’t demand that the mines sell us coal below cost,” states Gierek.
The authorities, however, promise to fix everything. “We ask you not to panic, not to buy expensive coal,” Anna Moskva told reporters. She noted that at present, some private firms, against the backdrop of a shortage of coal, “sell it at an absolutely unacceptable price, taking advantage of the panic. The minister promised: “We will provide more coal on the market at a good price with the help of state-owned enterprises and additional financial support tools. At this price, it will be supplied to all Polish households.”
However, the Poles are in no hurry to rejoice and thank the authorities. They are waiting for the government to fulfill its promises.