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Aleksander Marasek runs a coal supply business north of Warsaw called Almar.Anna Liminowicz/The Globe and Mail

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has sought to reassure his country that gas supplies will not be curtailed despite a move by Russia’s Gazprom to cut off deliveries because Poland has refused to make payments in rubles. But demand for other sources of fuel, including coal, has picked up and many analysts worry the country could face an energy crunch by fall.

Gazprom said Tuesday it would halt supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, the first move by Russia to cut off gas to Europe. Poland gets around 55 per cent of its gas from Russia under a contract that was set to expire at the end of this year. Bulgaria relies on Gazprom for about 90 per cent of its gas.

Gazprom’s move was seen as retaliation for Poland’s strong support of Ukraine in its war with Russia. Poland has been a critical supplier of military hardware to Ukraine and Warsaw has taken a tough line with other European countries, notably Germany, that have not been equally supportive.

Mr. Morawiecki said Wednesday his government was prepared for Gazprom’s announcement and he reassured Poles that gas will continue to flow to consumers. “We will do everything so that people can heat their homes and cook their meals,” Mr. Morawiecki said.

Poland’s state gas company, Polskie Górnictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo SA, or PGNiG, said that no customers had been affected by Gazprom’s decision. “Currently, despite Gazprom’s cessation of deliveries, PGNiG’s customers receive gas in accordance with their demand,” the company said in a statement late Tuesday.

Bulgaria’s Energy Minister said his country can meet the needs of users for at least one month. “Alternative supplies are available, and Bulgaria hopes that alternative routes and supplies will also be secured at the EU level,” Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov said.

Around 70 per cent of Polish energy is generated by burning coal and the industry is a major employer.Anna Liminowicz/The Globe and Mail

Poland has been diversifying away from Russian gas for years and PGNiG said it would make up some of the initial shortfall by purchasing gas from Germany and the Czech Republic. It can also buy more liquified natural gas and ship it through Poland’s LNG terminal in Swinoujscie on the Baltic Sea, which was recently expanded. And a new pipeline that will bring gas in from Norway is expected to be completed this fall.

Mr. Morawiecki said Poland also has substantial gas reserves and its storage capacity is 76 per cent full, far higher than most European Union countries. The government said it won’t need to draw on the reserves and plans to add to the storage to bring it to 99 per cent full. “No blackmail threatens us,” Mr. Morawiecki said. “Today we are showing what a responsible long-term policy is, the continuity of that policy and caring about the security of Poles.”

Nonetheless, the abrupt cancelling of gas supplies from Russia is expected to leave many people searching for alternative energy sources, including coal.

Poland has long been a major user of coal for home heating and the country is alone among European nations in using more coal-derived fuel for heating now than it did in 1990. Around 70 per cent of Polish energy is generated by burning coal and the industry is a major employer.

The national and local governments have been trying to wean households off coal and toward natural gas. The cities of Warsaw and Krakow, which often has stifling air pollution, have banned stoves that burn solid coal and wood. Warsaw has also offered subsidies to help homeowners replace coal-fired furnaces.

With gas supplies now restricted, many consumers are expected to hang onto their coal furnaces. But coal suppliers say customers are in for a shock when it comes to buying the fuel.

The price of coal has soared in recent months, partly because of the war in Ukraine and Poland’s decision to ban imports of Russian coal.

Mroczek Jacek, who runs a small coal supply operation in Modlin, north of Warsaw, said prices had jumped to around 2,500 zlotych per tonne from 700 zlotych a year ago. “People aren’t thinking about coal right now because it’s spring,” Mr. Jacek said Wednesday. But when they do look to buy, he added “it will be a tragedy because people will wake up to the issue.” He likened coal to “black gold,” because of its increasing value.

Mr. Jacek said he has also been trying to stock up on wood as a source of fuel for customers. But he said it, too, has become scarce and pricey.

The abrupt cancelling of gas supplies from Russia is expected to leave many people searching for alternative energy sources, including coal.Anna Liminowicz/The Globe and Mail

In Kiełpin, which is also north of Warsaw, coal dealer Aleksander Marasek has marvelled at the soaring cost of coal. He bought a supply of the fuel in January for 1,500 zlotych and he’s recently had an offer to buy some Russian coal for nearly twice as much. “I don’t sell Russian coal, only Polish,” he said defiantly as he sat in his cramped office on Wednesday. The small yard outside included three large piles of coal amid heaps of scrap metal.

Mr. Marasek said he sells coal mainly to elderly people who haven’t refitted their furnaces to natural gas. And he said most of his customers have yet to turn their minds to buying coal because of the warm spring temperatures. “I don’t know what people will do,” he added when asked about the price shock many will face. “Prices for coal are still going up. And we have trouble because of the war.”

With reports from the Associated Press

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