Two more villages could be doomed by ministry's energy strategy

04-11-2003

Two Czech ministries have locked horns over the issue of energy production. The Trade and Industry Ministry and the Environment Ministry have both drawn up strategic energy plans but their two visions of the future could hardly be further apart. As Zuzana Vesela reports, the Government faces a tough decision.

Horní Jiřetín, photo: Google MapsHorní Jiřetín, photo: Google Maps Horni Jiretin is a typical North Bohemian village in the foothills of the mountains on the Czech-German border. But, together with another village called Cernice, it could soon be wiped from the Earth's surface. This will happen if the Trade and Industry Ministry pushes through its energy production plan. The plan focuses on growing energy consumption. It foresees three new nuclear reactors and an extension of the strict coal mining limits set shortly after the fall of communism to prevent more of the country being eaten up by open-cast coalmines. Critics of the plan claim that mining in North Bohemia is too costly and cannot be justified by the country's energy needs. The Czech coal industry is a powerful lobby, and there is also speculation that the plan could be part of a strategy to raise the price of the big mining companies prior to privatization.

The independent energy consultant Vratislav Ludvik argues that the extension of the coal mining limit would simply serve the mining company Mostecka uhelna. It would not help energy production at all, but would be just a way of preventing one company from going bankrupt.

The Environment Ministry shares these doubts. It is not only against new nuclear power plants but also opposes increased coal mining. It would like to set targets to reduce CO2 emissions, but even with this plan, the Czech Republic would continue to lag behind EU standards. The country is the biggest CO2 polluter of all the countries about to join the EU, even Poland, which is four times larger.

The Environment Ministry suggests the use of natural gas and alternative energy resources. It also counts on the impact of environmental tax reform, which will support the use of alternative resources. But are Czechs ready to commit themselves to using alternative energy?

Vratislav Ludvik says that Czech awareness of environmental concerns still lacks far behind EU countries.

Whichever of the two plans is eventually approved, it will not mean a full commitment by the government. Currently the Czech Republic's energy strategy is reviewed every two years, but under Czech law, it is not a binding legal commitment.

04-11-2003