In Poland, where coal is king, homeowners queue for days to buy fuel

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WARSAW/BOGDANKA, Aug. 27 (Reuters) – In Poland’s late summer heat, dozens of cars and trucks line up at the Lubelski Wegiel Bogdanka coal mine, as households fearing winter shortages wait days and nights to get heating fuel queuing is reminiscent of communist times.

Artur, 57, a pensioner, drove Tuesday from Swidnik, some 30 km (18 miles) from the mine in eastern Poland, hoping to buy several tons of coal for himself and his family.

“Today toilets have been installed, but there is no running water,” he said, after spending three nights sleeping in his little red hatchback in a crawling row of trucks, tractors with trailers and passenger cars.

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“This is beyond imagination, people are sleeping in their cars. I remember the communist times, but it never occurred to me that we could go back to something worse.”

Artur’s household is one of 3.8 million in Poland who depend on coal for heating and are now facing shortages and price hikes after Poland and the European Union imposed an embargo on Russian coal following the invasion of Moscow in February by Moscow.

Poland banned purchases with immediate effect in April, while the bloc ordered them to disappear by August.

While Poland produces more than 50 million tons each year from its own mines, imported coal, largely from Russia, is a household staple due to competitive prices and the fact that Russian coal is sold in chunks better suited for home use.

Rising demand has forced Bogdanka and other state-controlled mines to ration sales or offer the fuel to individual buyers through online platforms, in limited quantities. Artur, who declined to give his full name, said he collected his extended family’s paperwork in hopes of picking up all of their fuel allocations in one go.

The mine planned to sell fuel for some 250 households on Friday and would continue to sell on weekends to cut waiting times, Dorota Choma, a spokeswoman for the Bogdanka mine, told Reuters.

The limits are in place to avoid hoarding and profiteering, or even selling spots in the queue, Choma said.

Like all Polish coal mines, Bogdanka typically sells most of the coal it produces to power plants. Last year it sold less than 1% of its output to individual customers, so it lacks the logistics to sell fuel directly to retail buyers.

Lukasz Horbacz, head of the Polish Coal Merchant Chamber of Commerce, said the decline in Russian imports started in January when Moscow started using railway lines for military transport.

“But the main reason for the shortages is the embargo that went into effect immediately. It turned the market upside down,” he told Reuters.

A spokesman for the Weglokoks, a state-owned coal merchant charged by the government to boost imports from other countries, declined to comment, while the climate ministry was unavailable for comment. Government officials have repeatedly said Poland would have enough fuel to meet demand.

In recent years, Poland has been the most outspoken critic of the EU’s climate policy and a staunch defender of coal, which generates as much as 80% of its electricity. But coal production has been steadily declining as the cost of mining rises at deeper levels.

Coal consumption remained broadly stable, leading to a gradual increase in imports. In 2021, Poland imported 12 million tons of coal, of which 8 million tons came from Russia and used by households and small heating installations.

In July, Poland ordered two state-controlled companies to import several million tons of fuel from other sources, including Indonesia, Colombia and Africa, and introduced subsidies for homeowners faced with a doubling or tripling of coal prices last winter.

“As many as 60% of those who use coal for heating may be affected by energy poverty,” Horbacz said.

Back in Bogdanka, Piotr Maciejewski, 61, a local farmer standing in line on Tuesday, said he was prepared for a long wait.

“My tractor stays in line, I go home to sleep,” he said.

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Reporting by Marek Strzelecki and Kuba Stezycki, editing by Ros Russell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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