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Czech energy regulation boss for lifting coal mining ban

Vladimír Putin


New Czech energy regulator ERÚ head favors mining coal beyond the existing set limits and tough rules for renewables incentives

Lze vysledovat nebo předjímat několik okruhů námitek, které odpůrci jmenování Aleny Vitáskové mohou vznášet. foto: © ČTK, ČESKÁ POZICEČeská pozice

The new head of the Czech Energy Regulation Authority (ERÚ), Alena Vitásková, has spoken out in favor of allowing coal mining beyond the current environmental limits.

“I am for breaking the [mining] limits, we will get power sources cheaper than natural gas and renewables,” Vitásková told Hospodářské noviny, which on Thursday published her first interview since taking up her new position this month.

The mining limits have been in place since the early 1990s and are fiercely defended by environmentalists, who say renewables are a viable alternative to more brown coal. But heat and power companies in many Czech cities say they need cheap coal to keep going and to break a stranglehold on supplies by current mining companies.

Vitásková also said she is convinced that two new reactors will be added to the existing Temelín nuclear power plant operated by state-controlled ČEZ in spite of European pressure to drop atomic power following the accident at Japan’s Fukishima plant.

The ERÚ head — sometimes christened “the gas queen” following a stint as head of Czech gas company RWE Transgas, a managerial post with Gazprom-controlled gas company Vemex, and close connections to the natural gas sector — said one of her main priorities is to deal with incentives for renewable energy, including solar, wind, biogas and biomass power production.

Vitásková said it is a question whether the current degree of support for solar power is permissible. “The development of solar power was allowed to such an extent that it will have an impact on citizens and firms for the next decades. The taxpayer is paying around Kč 200 billion for that,” she said.

‘I was not at the birthday party for Vladimir Putin, unfortunately.’

She added that feed-in tariffs for electricity produced from biomass and biogas power plants and the legislative framework for them must correspond to the resources available.

“That is why we are currently evaluating the impact of biomass and biogas plants being prepared on energy prices. It is already clear from the preliminary deals that have already been signed that there will be many such plants in the future. We do not want the same sort of problem to happen as with solar power where favorable purchase prices meant that more facilities than supportable resulted.”   

Vitásková defended her gas connections and know-how as an advantage in her new post. While admitting to be on good terms with top managers at Russian gas exporter Gazprom, Vitásková denied being closely connected with top Russian politicians. “I was not at the birthday party for [Prime Minister] Vladimir Putin, unfortunately,” she said.

The ERÚ sets prices for regulated parts of the energy sector, such as power distribution, and incentives for renewable power. It also has a major say in framing energy policy. Its powers are due to be boosted under a new energy act when it takes over inspection responsibilities from the State Energy Inspectorate.

Vitásková said she was only sounded out about taking up the ERÚ post three days before the actual appointment. A delay in making the appointment meant that the post was unfilled for several weeks with no possibility of taking key decisions.

Czech gas firm Vemex was 51-percent controlled by the German company ZMB GmbH, which was wholly owned by Gazprom before it was incorporated into the parent company.

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