Greenpeace activist applies for top job at Poland's coal-burning utility

WARSAW (Reuters) - Greenpeace activist, Pawel Szypulski, said on Thursday he was applying for the chief executive job at Poland’s biggest utility PGE, with a plan to eliminate polluting coal from the group’s power production by 2030.

FILE PHOTO: Belchatow Power Station, Europe's largest coal-fired power plant operated by PGE Group, is pictured near Belchatow, September 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

State-run PGE generates electricity mostly from burning lignite and hard coal. The group plans to invest more in renewable sources of energy, mostly in offshore wind, but Szypulski says this is not enough.

“One can no longer continue the business as if there was no climate crisis. I will apply for the job today,” Szypulski told reporters in the front of PGE headquarters in Warsaw.

He added that PGE, which owns Europe’s biggest coal plant in Belchatow, central Poland, should intensify investment in renewable sources as burning coal weighs on its financial results amid rising carbon emission costs.

Szypulski said his first decisions as PGE CEO would be to scrap the company’s plan to invest in a new lignite deposit in Zloczew, which is expected to extend Belchatow’s life, and to prepare a detailed scheme for a phase-out of coal by 2030.

His plans are in line with recommendations from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a U.S.-based think-tank, included in its latest report on PGE.

“Lignite today accounts for more than half of all PGE’s generation, but we find it is loss-making on average long before 2030 under a higher carbon price outlook. Even under a low-carbon price outlook, lignite will only account for a small fraction of PGE profits after 2025,” the IEEFA reports said.

The deadline for applying for the PGE CEO job and other roles in the management board is Feb. 14.

Top jobs in Poland’s state-run companies are generally considered to be politicized.

PGE’s current CEO, Henryk Baranowski, was appointed in March 2016. Before that he was a deputy minister in the Law and Justice (PiS) government.

“I am convinced that I meet the criteria for the job,” Szypulski said.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; editing by David Evans