Country Listing

Poland Table of Contents



In 1992 coal continued to play a central role in the Polish economy, both in support of domestic industry and as an export commodity. In 1990 about 90 percent of the country's energy production was based on hard coal and lignite. The two largest mines extracted over six million tons each in 1991, but the average mine produced between one million and three million tons. Compared with coal mines in Western Europe, Polish mining was quite inefficient because of isolation from technical advances made in the 1980s and, more recently, lack of investment funds for modernization.

Because the communist regimes ignored profitability in establishing quantitative output targets, coal output was expanded irrespective of costs, and inefficient mines were heavily subsidized. At the same time, the extensive type of mineral exploitation called for by central planning caused a very high ratio of waste (about 24 percent of output) as well as heavy environmental damage. Under the new planning system, a lower annual output is expected, but production operations are to be justified by profitability.

At the end of the 1980s, some eighty-four shaft mines and four large open-cast lignite mines were in operation. Plans for the 1990s call for closing many of those mines. In 1991 annual coal output declined from the 193 million tons mined in 1988 to 140 million tons, and output was expected to remain at the lower level in 1992. During the same period, extraction of lignite declined from 73 million tons to 69 million, with 70 million tons the maximum annual output expected for the next few years. In 1989 about 16 percent of Poland's coal and 19 percent of its coke were exported. In 1990 these shares increased to 19 percent and 26.6 percent, respectively, because a recession reduced domestic demand for coal.

The postcommunist governments abolished centralized allocation of coal and partially liberalized prices. By 1992 a relatively free coal market had been created, and subsidies were gradually reduced. This process also abolished the central administrations for coal mining and for electricity generation that had ensured state monopoly of those industries and perpetuated wasteful resource management. The reform program made both coal mines and power generation plants autonomous state enterprises fully competitive among themselves. To offset the loss of subsidies, price increases of as much as 13 percent were contemplated, although the planned rise of 5 percent had already aroused strong objections from industrial customers. The 1991 economic restructuring program of the Bielecki government envisaged establishment of ten independent and competing coalmining companies, several wholesalers, and one export agency. Following the World Bank's advice, a holding company for lignite mines was also considered.

By the end of 1991, however, the Polish coal industry was in serious economic trouble. Fifty-six of sixty-seven mines ended 1991 showing losses, and only seven showed profits sufficient to cover all obligations. In 1991 government subsidies dropped from their 1990 total of 9.1 billion zloty to 5.9 billion zloty, but individual mines still received as much as 2.2 billion. Liquidation, already accomplished at six mines by 1992, cost between 0.6 and 1.5 billion zloty per mine, not counting the economic cost of added unemployment (coal mining in Poland is much more labor intensive than in the West). An alternative solution, combining individual mines into complexes, had been attempted in the 1970s efficiency campaign but did not have the expected impact. In mid-1992, mines and power plants had large coal surpluses that seemingly could not be alleviated by domestic consumption. At that point, the disparity between low domestic demand and continuing supply threatened to raise unemployment by forcing more mines to close.

Data as of October 1992