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Key Visegrad bodies join up to pull back Europe's 'coal curtain'

Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia far behind in take-up of renewables and only Slovakia has a coal-exit plan

Key renewable associations and climate policy think-tanks from four Visegrad countries and Austria have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a platform called Visegrad+ to push back the use of coal and promote renewables in their countries.

The groups point to the fact that nearly all Western European countries have plans in place for an exit from coal and lignite, or are at least actively discussing it, while most Eastern European nations either have no clear plan on how to quit coal, while they shun renewables.

“Seems like we have a new curtain in Europe, but made of coal this time,” said Veronika Galekova, director of the Slovakian Association of Photovoltaic Industry and Renewables.

“If you have a look at the European map, you see how European countries plan to deal with coal.”

The share of renewables in all four Visegrad countries (Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) is one of the lowest in the EU, and with the exception of Slovakia its energy policy planners don’t plan to change this substantially in the upcoming decade, the Visegrad+ group says.

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Ambitions regarding green power in the four countries’ drafts for National Energy Climate Plans (NECPs) towards 2030 are very low and not sufficient to deliver enough on the EU’s joint target to consume at least 32% of renewable power by 2030.

“There is much higher potential in our countries, than we see put in NECPs drafts. We just need the proper ambition and not business as usual scenarios to be called our national plan,” said Stepan Chalupa, chairman of the Czech Renewable Energy Chamber.

“In Czechia, we can have at least a quarter of our electricity from clean sources by 2030, but Mr. Babis' government suggests to have only half of that.”

There is not enough wind and solar potential in their countries, energy policy designers in the Visegrad countries often claim, although the penetration of renewable energies in neighbouring countries such as Germany or Austria – with similar winds and solar irradiation – is very high.

“It reminds me of Austria 25 years ago when some of our politicians called our country ‘no wind country’,” said Florian Maringer, managing director of the Austrian Renewable Energy Association.

“But now we add up to 400MW of wind turbines annually. Except Poland, this is more than each of the Visegrad countries have installed during the last 20 years.”

In populist-governed Hungary, the government actually has banned the use of wind power in 2016 and the new NECP is not even considering to develop it.

Poland, the largest and most populous of the Visegrad countries, will need to phase out 20 out of 41GW of mostly coal-powered capacity by 2035, according to Irena Gajewska from the Polish Wind Energy Association (PWEA).

“It is a great opportunity to replace old dirty power plants by wind, both onshore and offshore, photovoltaics and other renewables,” she said, adding the country has the potential to derive close to 40% of its power from renewable sources by 2030.

The platform set up in Prague today is open to wider cooperation and has plans to expand towards other Central and East European countries, once it gets well established.

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