Current Affairs Greenpeace: consumers conned, renewables discredited in solar power scam
Electricity prices are set to rise again in 2013, as the government seeks to recoup losses from huge subsidies paid out during the recent boom in solar power. Cheap solar panels imported from China and generous feed-in tariffs paid by the Czech government helped fuel a huge solar boom. Someone, however, has to pay for that boom and it seems like it will be the Czech consumer. From 2013 Czech households will be paying out an average of 2,200 crowns per year as their contribution to state subsidies for renewable energy – over ten times the 2009 amount. And according to the environmental group Greenpeace, the public’s been conned. Jan Rovenský is in charge of Greenpeace’s climate and energy campaign.
Can you expand on that a bit? How was it not necessary if the government says that this was due to the huge subsidies paid out to solar power and other things?
“Well the biggest problem was in 2009, when the government was unable to reflect the falling prices of solar panels and failed to lower support of feed-in tariffs for them. It was not Greenpeace or NGOs who were fighting for higher prices, but the utilities. So it’s a mistake by the government that is responsible for a big share of this increase in prices for the end consumer.”
So the fact that Czech households are paying more towards subsidizing renewable energy is the government’s fault?
“Definitely. I think it’s a good idea to compare the situation with other countries around us which had the same problem, which was a very rapid fall in the price of photovoltaic panels, but they were able to react. The Czech government unfortunately was not. And it’s definitely the core of the current situation.”
So you’re saying that part of the problem was that these solar panels suddenly became very cheap. That meant that lots more people could buy them. And lots more people could claim subsidies from the state, from the Czech government.
“Principally yes, but most of those who bought the solar panels were not individuals but big industry. It’s not widely known that that the biggest operator, the owner of the biggest photovoltaic power plants in the Czech Republic, is CEZ, our almost monopoly utility. So it was they which used this huge support which in the end will be paid for by Czech households.”
So if I’m to understand this correctly, primarily one of the biggest customers for these solar panels was the state-owned energy monopoly CEZ, which bought large numbers of them, claimed the state’s subsidy for solar power, and that has helped push up the money that now must be reclaimed from the people by the state.
“Yes. [CEZ] used this huge income for their own interests. But at the same time they used the whole thing to dirty renewable energy in the eyes of ordinary people. And frankly it worked. If you talk to ordinary people about solar power or renewables, most will say – it’s expensive, it’s s**t, I don’t like it.”
You’re saying that CEZ went big on solar power in 2009 partly to discredit solar power and other renewables so they could continue making money from classic sources of energy?
“Definitely. And unfortunately they were quite successful.”