In the 80s Poland was the second (after the United States) exporter of hard coal in the world. From that time much has changed on the international coal market. In 2009, the European Union countries, the main area of our exports, consumed about 318 million tons of coal, and only 135 million tons of coal came from its own sources. If Poland was excluded of these statistics (production of 77.5 million tons) those would be a truly trace amounts. The vast majority of coal arrived to Europe from: South Africa, Australia, Colombia, USA, Indonesia and Russia. Especially our Eastern neighbours have dominated the European market for several years. Thanks to cheap production and transportation costs, coal from Russia was competitive in many markets, and received wide recognition in Scandinavia and Great Britain.

At present the UK and Germany, mentioned before, are – beside Poland – the largest consumers of coal in Europe. In the major European economies coal consumption exceeds 50 million tons per year. France uses much smaller amounts of coal, because its power industry is based on nuclear plants, Italy primarily uses oil and gas, and Spaniards are turning more and more to renewable energy, which is the primary source of energy for the Scandinavian and Alpine countries. In Germany, Greece and the Czech Republic lignite has a significant share.

The European market is very changeable at times. Generally the economic situation in countries that consume coal has a huge impact on the market size. In addition, weather conditions also affect the amount of demand for coal – a warm winter it’s enough for the coal consumption to decrease significantly. On the other hand, the hot and dry summers may increase demand for hard coal, because the water shortage contributes to the decline in energy production in hydroelectric power stations (Scandinavian and Alpine), and nuclear plants that need large amounts of water for reactors cooling.

Unstable situation sometimes takes place on the suppliers side. Failure of loading facilities in Richards Bay, the main shipping port in South Africa, which took place several years ago resulted in a significant reduction of African coal supplies to ARA ports (Amsterdam–Rotterdam–Antwerp). A recent large floods in Indonesia and Australia eliminated local coal for some time. Then there are a number of strikes and labour protests, which complicate the life of exporters.

These situations however more often impact on the price of steam coal in Europe than limit its supply. Less competition and supply affect the growth of coal prices in Europe, and these can be very variable. In the last few years, steam coal prices have fluctuated between 60 and 220 dollars per ton in the unloading ports of Western Europe (currently about $ 92 per 6000 kcal/kg).

Situation on the coal market is complicated even more by the European Union climate policy. Brussels wants all member countries to consume 20% of energy from renewable sources to 2020, in fact wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20%. Also intends to save 20% of energy. Hence the EU climate policy has been hailed as 3x20. In this situation, coal is seen as an obstacle to the implementation of this policy, because its combustion causes high CO2 emissions compared to natural gas, not to mention nuclear or renewable.

The hope for coal are so called clean coal technologies, which include among others CCS installations (CO2 capture and storage), coal gasification (ground and underground). But the problem is that these technologies are only being tested, so effects of their application on an industrial scale are unknown. Therefore, many European energy companies withdraw from planned investments in coal-fired power units, because banks will not finance such projects. The problem, of course, applies to steam coal and not coking coal. Adoption of this policy may result in reduction of coal consumption in Europe.

In the light of the above mentioned circumstances, the prospects of Polish coal exports do not look good. It doesn’t mean, however, that its sale in Europe is unprofitable. It is profitable to sell it, especially in the immediate neighbourhood: Germany (mainly eastern and southern provinces), Austria, Czech Republic. Much less profitable is coal export in so-called marine lines, because of the high cost of transport to the ports of Western Europe. Only assortments of coal which are sought after can be sold well there. It is also thanks to the specialists from “Węglokoks” who in 2009 delivered over 82% of total exports of Polish coal. In 2010, "Węglokoks" sold nearly 9 million tons of coal abroad. It doesn’t change the fact that Polish coal exports will be systematically reduced, because Polish coal production costs are higher every year, while coal production in Poland is declining.

For three years, Poland has imported several million tons of coal each year, which is more than it exports. Due to its experience and knowledge of the international coal market "Węglokoks" is prepared to develop the business in coal imports. Despite this, it does not use their abilities, because it knows that the additional amount of coal derived from imports, complicates the already difficult situation in the Polish mining industry now.

Therefore, the interest of the company is scarce coal and coal with special quality characteristics that is not found in domestic production. In 2009 we imported only 15 thousand tons of low-sulphur steam coal powder, which means that the share of "Węglokoks" in total imports of Polish coal is only 0.2%. Tough times are a challenge for "Węglokoks." To meet these requirements, the company has sufficient financial capital, but primarily – its human capital. Edmund Plutecki, although he had many offers of work, have never decided to leave "Węglokoks".

– Why have I never decided to leave "Węglokoks"? Because here we have family atmosphere, honest work, I do not need to cheat, I have great job satisfaction and decent earnings. This is a huge satisfaction. When I sit down to negotiate with large business organizations, such as ports and railways, I feel satisfaction when I finish to negotiate, because it happens to the benefit of the company. Many times after all the talks, I can hear it from a partner: – Edmund, when others come here, they just do not get it. There is such thing as business memory. I can dig out cases from twenty plus years ago, when we, having the power, helped in something, took care of something, cleared something, invested in something to help them. And now I use this. Today I teach that to my younger colleagues. "Remember: it was 15 years ago, and there sits a guy who remembers it". I use it unreservedly when it comes to the value of this company. That is why it has such value and why it is still here.

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