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

On Poland’s hot late summer days, dozens of trucks and cars line up at Lubelski Wegiel Bogdanka coalmine. Fearful of winter shortages, households wait for days or nights to stock up on heating oil in lines reminiscent of communist times.

Artur, 57 years old, is a pensioner who drove from Swidnik to purchase several tonnes of coal for his family.

After three nights of sleep in his tiny red hatchback, he stated that “toilets were up today, but no running water” after waking up to find a queue of trucks, private cars, and tractors towing trailers.

“This is beyond imagination. People are sleeping in cars. Although I can recall the communist era, it was not something that crossed my mind that we might return to something worse.

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Artur’s household is among the 3.8 million Polish households that depend on coal heating. Now, they face price rises and shortages as a result of an embargo imposed by the European Union and Poland on Russian coal after the invasion of Ukraine in February.

Poland prohibited purchases in April with immediate effect, and the bloc ordered their eradication by August.

Poland produces more than 50 million tonnes of coal each year from its own mines, but imported coal from Russia is a staple household item due to the low prices and the ease of use of Russian coal lumps.

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Bogdanka and other state-controlled mines have had to restrict sales or offer fuel to individuals via online platforms due to high demand. Artur, who refused to reveal his full name said that he had collected paperwork from extended family members in order to pick up all of their fuel allocations.

Dorota Choma, a spokesperson for the Bogdanka mine, stated that the mine would sell fuel to approximately 250 households on Friday. They also planned to continue sales over the weekend in order to reduce waiting times.

Choma stated that the limits were in place to stop hoarding and profiteering or selling spots in the queue.

Bogdanka, like all Polish coal mines sells the majority of its coal to power plants. It sold less than 1% of its coal to individuals last year so it does not have the logistics to directly sell fuel to consumers.

Lukasz Horbacz (head of the Polish Coal Merchant Chamber of Commerce) stated that the decline in Russian imports started in January, when Moscow began using rail tracks for military transport.

“But the main cause of the shortages was the embargo, which went into immediate effect. He told Reuters that it had turned the market upside-down.

A spokesperson for the Weglokoks (a state-owned coal trader, was unable to comment. The climate ministry was unavailable for comment. Multiple government officials have stated repeatedly that Poland will have enough fuel to meet its demand.

Poland has been a vocal critic of EU climate policies in recent years and a strong defender of coal, which generates up to 80% of its electricity. As the cost of mining at deeper depths increases, coal production has declined steadily.

The steady increase in coal consumption has led to a gradual increase in imports. Poland imported 12,000,000 tonnes of coal in 2021. 8 Million tonnes of this came from Russia. It was used for heating by small-scale and household appliances.

Poland ordered two state-controlled companies to purchase several million tonnes of fuel from foreign sources in July. It also introduced subsidies for homeowners who were facing a double or triple increase in coal prices compared to last winter.

Horbacz stated that energy poverty could affect as many as 60% of people who heat their homes with coal.

Piotr Maciejewski (61), a local farmer, joined the line on Tuesday (23 August) to get into Bogdanka. He said that he was ready for a long wait.

He said: “My tractor is in line, I’m going to bed.”

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