This article is part of our special report Rural development in the reformed CAP.
Turning to biogas and other eco-friendly farming practices under the EU’s new Rural Development Programme may be challenging for the Czech Republic, where renewable energies have a bad reputation. EurActiv.cz reports.
The new RDP promotes resource efficiency and supports the shift toward a low-carbon and climate resilient economy in agriculture.
But despite playing a key role in the EU’s energy and climate policies, renewable resources face widespread public skepticism in the Czech Republic.
Public scepticism towards renewables
The bad image of renewables was mainly caused by the over-generous support schemes that benefited large photovoltaic farms at the end of the last decade.
Although the support was drastically cut in 2011 and further limited in the following years ― too drastically for many investors in the photovoltaic business ― renewable energies were blamed for high electricity prices which, in turn, made their overenthusiastic support toxic for many politicians.
In line with this general scepticism, the national parliament approved in 2013 a bill that effectively halted operational support for all new renewable installations as of 2014.
But later the same year, the ministry of agriculture initiated a revision of the law that finally allowed operational support for biogas stations. This move was justified as a support for farmers and rural development.
Focus on biogas stations
Biogas stations are often added to existing farms as they use local bio-degradable plant or animal waste to produce electricity or heat.
As such, new biogas stations were also expected to receive EU funding from the Rural Development Programme for the period 2014-2020. Unlike operational support described above, EU funds were expected to boost investment in new biogas stations.
“There is an enormous amount of biomass produced by agriculture and forestry industries that is unused,” said Hynek Jordán, the agriculture ministry spokesman. “We see tapping the potential of renewable energy sources, especially biomass, as a huge challenge for this [programming] period,” he told EurActiv.cz.
According to the agriculture ministry, the new biogas plants should help processing dung and manure to produce energy. But the transition will be slow.
“It is true that the Rural Development Programme aims to support resource efficiency and the transition to a low-carbon economy in agriculture, food industry and forestry,” said Jakub Heidelberk, project consultant at Cyrrus Advisory. “Nevertheless, from the overall allocation of €3.1 billion only about 3.8% is set aside” for biomass, he noted.
Although the first call for proposals to support the production of solid biomass was launched in early February, a similar call to support biogas station has not opened yet.
Heidelberk believes it could be launched in May but doubted what the real interest among farmers and other project promoters might be.
“For the moment, we do not see many promoters who are interested in investing in energy from renewable sources. There is neither significant interest among our existing clients, nor preliminary queries,” the consultant stressed.
Sources in the biomass industry explained that potential promoters might be currently waiting for the verdict of the European Commission over the Czech support scheme that should guarantee operational support for new stations. The Commission is expected to notify whether the scheme is in line with the EU legislation.
For obvious reasons, project promoters are watching what the economic framework of future biogas stations would be and whether they will be entitled for both investment and operational support.
Pellets and bricks
The use of biogas for electricity and heat production in the Czech Republic has so far been rather limited.
Pavel Veselský, director of CETA, a small farm that is using multiple renewable technologies such as photovoltaic panels, or biomass boilers, told EurActiv that three years ago, local citizens complained about having the biogas technology in their backyard and blocked the construction of the farm.
Although the approach of local people tends to change over time, similar cases where people feared odor pollution or increased traffic load, are also frequent.
But biomass is not only about biogas. The Rural Development Programme also aims to promote investment in sites for the production of solid biomass such as pellets and bricks. It can already build on recent experience under previous programming periods.
Lukáš Verner, the head of Ekover, a business based in Central Bohemia, successfully applied for EU funding in the 2007-2013 period for the production of compressed plant based organic materials.
He believes that the EU programme helped his business grow. “Our revenues from production and sales of pelletised biomass fuel represent around 40% of our total income,” Verner told EurActiv.
“We managed to combine our natural interest about environmental protection with an economic profitability of this activity,” Verner noted, adding that the biomass business helped him not only to raise his profits but also to widen his network of partners and clients.