Czech energy giant slowly turning green


The Czech Republic's leading power company, ?EZ, has promised to turn to energy efficiency and environmentally-friendly projects, but local NGOs say it must still improve its green energy strategy. EURACTIV Czech Republic reports.

?EZ, two-thirds of which is owned by the Czech state, says it will focus its efforts on energy savings and efficiency in order to produce greener electricity in the coming years.

Czech environmental NGOs are pleased that ?EZ has finally "woken up" to green technologies, despite pointing to several shortcomings in the company's energy strategy.

''Our aim is to rapidly decrease our CO2 emissions through many low-carbon and zero-carbon projects and renovation of our coal plants, which will bring increased efficiency and greening of our electricity production,'' said ?EZ spokesperson Eva Nováková.

Martin Sedlák of environmental NGO Hnutí DUHA said: ''We hail the fact that ?EZ has finally acknowledged the importance of energy savings, which have been in fashion in the West for many years.''

Similarly, the Czech Environment Ministry ''welcomes any effort leading to the greening of electricity production,'' according to spokesperson Petra Roubí?ková.

Too big, too late and not green enough?

Yet green NGOs think that ?EZ is behind the times and is trying to catch up by pursuing "megalomaniac"projects that run contrary to one of the key principles behind renewable energy: decentralised production.

Sedlák from Hnutí DUHA (Friends of the Earth Czech Republic) points to a 30MW photovoltaic plant in southern Bohemia as one such example.

As well as investing in new projects, ?EZ is trying to improve the efficiency of existing installations. For instance, the Temelín power plant should produce 30% more electricity following a renovation and the Pruné?ov coal plant should increase its efficiency from 33% to 39%.

However, Sedlák claims that if ?EZ were to respect Czech law and EU legislation on pollution prevention and control, the efficiency of Pruné?ov could reach 42% or 45%. ''Using the best available technologies, ?EZ could save half a million tonnes of coal per year,'' he claims.

New nuclear units

Along with constructing and upgrading renewables plants – using biomass, water, biogas and wind – and making conventional sites "greener", ?EZ intends to build two new blocs in Temelín, one in Dukovany and one in Ledvice.

The enlargement of existing conventional sites has been heavily criticised by environmental groups and Green MPs in the Czech parliament. However, the two largest political parties – ODS and ?SSD – are supportive of the idea.

While consumption of solid fuels in the Czech Republic decreased by 35% between 1990 and 2004, it still constitutes 42% of the total energy supply – far more the EU-27 average of 18%. Nuclear energy represents 15% and renewables 7%.

As for electricity production, the Czech Republic gets 30% from nuclear plants and 60% from coal plants, while renewables account for just 6.5%.

Role of EU funding

According to Czech Industry and Trade Ministry spokesman Matyáš Vitík, the current state energy strategy ''reflects the long-term needs of the Czech Republic'' and ''takes into account the situation in neighbouring countries''.

However, green activists have criticised the strategy for putting too much emphasis on "dirty" sources and for planning to extract coal beyond existing eco-limits in the north-west of the country.

When asked about funding, Nováková said that ?EZ ''typically does not use project-based financing',' meaning that major projects are paid for from its ''balance sheet revenues''. The company only uses EU structural funding for certain research projects and renovating a few heating plants, she added.

However, ?EPS, the company responsible for electrcity transmission in the Czech Republic, is attempting to obtain money from both the EU structural funds and the European Investment Bank, according to spokesperson Jana Jab?rková.

?EPS, which hopes to acquire funds from the European Ten Year Network Development Plan, is planning to invest four billion crowns (160 million euros) per year in the coming decade.

The European Parliament passed a draft regulation on 25 February allowing the European Commission to obtain more information about major energy projects planned in EU member states. The move was hailed as a step towards developinga more coordinated EU energy policy.

EURACTIV is presenting an overview of major planned energy infrastructure projects in Eastern and Western Europe. This is the first of a series of articles from the EURACTIV network.

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