Global Economics

Eastern Europe Jumps into Eco-Power


Far from being uninterested in renewables, some new EU members such as Romania and the Czech Republic are enacting pro-green energy policies

Despite a wide-spread belief that former communist states are not keen on adopting green initiatives, some of the EU's member states in the east are forging ahead with renewable energy policies, according to a representative from energy giant General Electric (GE).

Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic are particularly active in the field of renewable energy although Poland is lagging behind, says Rod Christie, General Electric president for central and eastern Europe, Russia and the CIS countries.

"There is more wind generation in Romania, who only started two years ago, than there is in Poland who started 4-5 years ago."

"Romania has implemented legislation, has a very good wind resource and we've seen what's now the largest onshore wind farm outside of the US being constructed there," he told this website.

A 600-megawatts (MW) wind farm in southern Romania is set to be fully operational in 2011. The €1.1 billion investment which includes 240 wind turbines produced by General Electric was made by the Czech power group CEZ.

Despite the recent political crisis and the recession projected to reach eight percent of the GDP this year, Romania's situation is set to improve, Mr. Christie believes.

"There appears to be more financing coming into the market. So there are some more projects we'll be announcing probably in the near future, as customers start to get their financing in line," he said.

Apart from Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic have also quickly adopted a legal framework allowing smaller independent generators—for instance using biogas—to get on the national grid.

"Some of that has been supported out of EU's structural funds," Mr. Christie adds.

One project aimed at capturing and storing the CO2 emissions of a coal plant in Poland will also be funded by the EU's so-called recovery package for 2009-2010—a funding scheme for green projects aimed at boosting the economy during the crisis.

But Mr. Christie argues that the potential for the so-called clean coal technology in Poland is much bigger and still undeveloped. "Poland would be a great place for clean coal. But it is not moving that way."

He said the main hurdle in Poland is the lack of political will to implement schemes which encourage the industries to invest in renewable energy.

Another problem is cumbersome bureaucracy making it difficult to get a permit to build a power plant and to use the land which is often split up, especially in southern Poland.

Czech regional authorities against renewables

There are similar problems in the Czech Republic at the regional level, says Martin Mikeska, a Prague-based expert with the Central and European Bankwatch Network, an umbrella of environmental NGOs in the region.

He confirmed that the Czech legal framework is good in terms of stimulating companies to invest in green sources of electricity such as wind farms or solar panels.

"But the bad part is that some of the local and regional governments have their own policies, especially concerning wind and photovoltaic energy, which are not in line with the national policy of supporting renewables," he said.

A few small wind farms are already installed in the Czech Republic, but the regional authorities are putting a break on connecting these to the grid, Mr. Mikeska explained. A recent court decision ruled against this behaviour however and called on the local government to change legislation and bring it in line with national legislation.

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