Special Reports / Liberty, climate, electricity!

Energy revolution, Švejk-style

Jakub Patočka · 28 May 2013
Make no mistake, we will not let the pesky Germans spoil us with their solar sorcery. And if you want to know the culprit, look no further than the Sun.

When it comes to renewable energy policy, one can essentially find two approaches in Europe. First, we have the countries that are eager or even zealous in promoting an energy policy U-turn. The Germans, above all, have actually managed to turn their Energiewende into their greatest intellectual and industrial adventure of today, a sort of “putting the man on the moon” for the onset of the green era.

Second, we have the countries that view this tendency with skepticism, or at least reluctance. When you look at a map of Europe depicting trends towards adopting renewable energy as an essential part of the national energy mix, it might strike you that here, the Iron Curtain remains intact. As if the approach to renewable energy was a reflection on the general state of the political culture.

Tunneling? It’s the Sun!

Perhaps nothing confirms this suspicion better than the special case of the Czech Republic. Here, the nation’s political and economic elite have managed to pull off a quite subtle and truly devilish trick. On the one hand, a state supported incentives scheme promoted as a “German style endorsement of renewables” was mismanaged in such a way as to pass absurd sums of money to the members of the industrial and political power elite who had privileged access to the incentives.

Yet on the other hand, the scheme’s downfall, caused by the public frustration over this elite making huge fortunes on the high state-guaranteed prices, was spin doctored into a failure of renewables. Hence people perceive renewable, and especially solar, energy itself as the cause of all the losses, rather than the people in political and economic structures that mismanaged and deliberately misused the scheme. Moreover the public have been convinced that they pay for the scheme in their energy bills. Although it has been proven that it represents only a minor share of the rate increases imposed by the Czech power utility, the people have been misled to blame the Sun.

Most likely this was not premeditated. But once the lavishly corrupt Czech power elite saw the chance to suck yet more money from the public budget, they just could not resist. Later, they realized that the robbery had become too large and the public too angry—and they needed a scapegoat. Since those profiting most from the solar bonanza have no interest in any sort of green agenda—actually quite the contrary in most cases—this served them as a scapegoat just perfectly.

One step forward, three steps back

So here we have Energiewende, Švejk style. If you ask the average Czech citizen who stole the money intended to promote renewables, he would—with his infectious smile—undoubtedly point his finger at the Sun.

But this is only step one. The Czech version of Energiewende actually has also a step two, which brings things deliciously full circle. If the public has been convinced—with the blatant assistance of the egregiously incompetent Czech media—that renewables present no future for us, what is the future, then?

You guessed it. As if to demonstrate their shock at the money sucked out of the renewables promotion schemes, the government is seriously contemplating giving price guarantees to fund the construction of the third and fourth blocks of the Temelin nuclear power plant. And this would be 20 billion euros, by far the largest investment in Czech history.

Moreover, structurally it is to be handled like the renewables program. While the fixed prices for sale to the grid in the case of solar energy were guaranteed for 15 years, in the case of the nuclear it is to be an incredible 40 years, which would literally lock in energy policy for two generations. One can ask why anyone would do something so obviously insane. Well, ten years of virtually unopposed nuclear propaganda have created in the majority of Czechs a sort of national nuclear pride. If you are looking for definitive proof of how irrational national self-esteem can be, look no further.

Naturally the project’s ultimate point is to create yet another huge siphon to funnel public money into the jaws of Czech political corruption. Money is after all the oil that keeps the member parties of the current Czech right wing coalition running without friction. Which is not to say that substantial parts of the left wing opposition love it any less.

A dubious nuclear progress (within the bounds of law)

This is set up to happen in a situation where international debate on a future for nuclear energy is as good as dead. We do not need to talk safety, waste, and ethics when it becomes self-evident that a technology has become too unwieldy and obsolete. Nuclear energy today feels like a steam locomotive at the dawn of the diesel era. But… the Czechs do have tradition here. At the start of the LCD era, the state gave large incentives to the multinational Philips to build a factory to manufacture CRTs.

Because nuclear is promoted as a source of both power and national pride, and ours is a nation of irony, it should come as no suprise that the critical public debate is: should Americans build it, or Russians? Make no mistake, we will not let the pesky Germans spoil us with their solar sorcery. And if you want to know the culprit, look no further than the Sun.