WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Poland will increase its use of coal as a source of energy, despite environmental concerns, because it is in large supply there and would help reduce dependence on imports, the prime minister said Thursday.
Donald Tusk made the comments during a visit to the Opole coal power plant, which is located in the southwest of the country and is to add two new production units to its existing four. The expansion will more than double its power output to some 3,290 megawatts from 1,491 megawatts now. The 11-billion-zlotys ($3 billion) construction project should start in the summer.
Poland's state-owned Coal Company, a miner that employs some 60,000 people, supplies the plant. It has signed a letter of intent to extend the cooperation. Tusk said the move was a "step toward energy security" and would create badly-needed jobs. Poland's unemployment is 13.5 percent.
The country's coal mining industry has been significantly scaled down since communist era times, when it was a driving force of the economy, providing employment and job benefits and enjoying strong financial gains.
But its other main sources of energy, oil and gas, are largely imported from Russia. That presents both political and economic concerns to Warsaw.
Ever since Poland broke away from Moscow's political influence of the communist era more than two decades ago, it has been striving to reduce its economic dependence as well. During the winter of 2009, Russia cut gas exports to Ukraine over a pricing dispute. The move cut heating to households across central and southern Europe and raised fears Moscow could try to bully other countries in the region as well.
Poland is building a port on the Baltic Sea that can take deliveries of liquid natural gas from other countries and is working toward having nuclear energy after 2024. Renewable energy is being developed, albeit cautiously.
The new focus on coal is also likely due in part to disappointing early exploratory tests for shale gas. Poland is believed to have one of Europe's biggest shale gas deposits, but the test results have shown it may not be as easy to extract as it is in the United States, where the industry was developed. That caused several major international exploration companies to pull out of the country in recent months.
The nation's continued reliance on black coal is considered an obstacle in global climate talks that aim to reduce the use of the fossil fuel.
Warsaw is due to host the next round of global climate talks in November and aims to pave the way for a new agreement on carbon gas reduction, planned for 2020. The government is expecting a tough debate as it plans to preserve its heavy use of coal.