Visegrad4: From a provincial energy debate to joint action for renewables

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

The Visegrad Group served for quite some time as a platform for the democratic development of Central Europe. But today's Visegrad cooperation is based on ignoring climate threats, and attempting to extend fossil fuel burning, writes Ada Ámon. [Tim Green / Flickr]

The V4 group of countries ignores climate threats, attempts to extend fossil fuel burning, violates air pollution limits and undermines the development of renewable energies. The Visegrad+ Renewable Energy platform has been established to turn this trend around, writes Ada Ámon.

Ada Ámon is a senior associate at Berlin-based think tank E3G, an independent think-tank operating to accelerate the global transition to a low carbon economy.

When it comes to the share of renewables in the EU, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland are sitting in the last row. They are well below 20%. The situation gets even worse if one digs deeper and wants to know the renewables share in electricity consumption.

Hungary is second to the last, while Poland and Czechia rank fifth and sixth from the back. Slovakia sticks out of this region thanks to the extensive use of hydropower built back in the Communist times.

One could say that the region lags behind because of its geography. But Austria, which borders with three of the four Visegrad countries, is a leader in in the use of renewable and the first in terms of electricity generation on the continent. Does wind really stop blowing on the Austrian border? Ridiculous! What could then be the reason for such a tremendous difference?

The answer is political will. Austria’s successful development of renewables is rooted in the political and societal consensus that a clean and sustainable energy policy is beneficial for the country regardless of any current ideological direction. It brings prosperity, clean air to all people and lots of benefits to the economy. This notion and understanding support a high climate ambition.

Like Austria 25 years ago

It wasn’t the case 25 years ago. At the time, the common attitude was the one that is widespread today in the Central and Eastern European member states: renewables are expensive, unreliable and not able to deliver.

It was back in the last century when climate change was not widely acknowledged, renewable technologies were much less developed, investment costs were much higher and project management as well as financing were still in a very early stage.

Thanks to the forerunners like Austria, Germany and Scandinavian, we now live the opposite. Wind and solar investments are routine projects and integrate well into the grids. The overall cost of these investments dropped below most of the conventional power plants.

At the same time, the V4 governments and the political establishment of these countries still believe that only huge and base-load powerplants can reliably supply electricity. The incumbent power sector feels threatened by solar and wind and it is right to think so. Therefore, these governments rather hold back the development in this field and maintains the hegemony of the conventional technologies in power production.

Some of these countries introduce totally nonsense and extreme regulations.  In Hungary, permits will not be given to any wind park in the vicinity of 12.5 km of any settlement, which makes the whole country a red zone for wind. In fact, it is easier to gain a license for a 2 GW nuclear power plant than a 30 MW wind park.

Or take the example of Slovakia, where people can install their own household-size renewable-power plant but need to consume at least 90% of the generated power.

V4 energy security: The land of nuclear and coal

Visegrád countries are seeking ways to ensure energy security while delivering on their climate commitments. Nuclear is seen as the ideal solution by some, with natural gas playing a limited role. EURACTIV’s Central European partners report.

Elevating the debate

The National Energy and Climate Plans (NECP) submitted to the European Commission at the end of last year mirror this malformed idea of energy policy and very low climate ambition. The highest renewable target for 2030 in these countries is 21% and the supporting documents are generally poor.

According to a new study applying the Commission’s own methodology based on the revised Renewable Energy Directive, all member states should have come up with a share that is at least four percentage points higher, covering a quarter of the consumption by green energy supply. Moreover, it is certain that the economically viable potential is above this figure.

This situation has been calling for joint action of the organisations which have been working on accelerating the transition towards clean and sustainable energy system for decades already. Renewable associations and think tanks from the Visegrad countries and Austria gathered in Prague to establish the Visegrad+ Renewable Energy platform which is looking beyond the short-sighted government policies.

The new coalition wishes to elevate the discussion from the pathetic and provincial levels. Not only they offer their cumulative expertise and experience to the new European Commission while critically reading the NECPs, but they also provide the correct figures.

The Visegrad Group started gloriously and served for quite some time as a good platform of political change. It contributed to the democratic development of Central Europe. But by now, the Group has become a disturbing entity in the middle of Europe.

Today’s Visegrad cooperation is based on ignoring climate threats, attempting to extend fossil fuel burning, violating air pollution limits and undermining the development of renewable energies. These countries hurt the interests and health of their own citizens. The Visegrad+ Renewable Energy platform is established with the aim of turning this trend around and open up to cooperation with like-minded parties.

Old Visegrad is dead. Long live Visegrad+.

Mega infrastructure projects win over clean energy in Visegrad Four

In the Visegrad countries, decision makers prefer their historical favourites – coal and nuclear – to renewable sources and energy efficiency. As the Global Climate Action Summit resumes in San Francisco, it’s important to realise that corporate leadership can also shape the outlook for clean energy in Eastern Europe, writes Ada Ámon.

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