Anti-corruption watchdog backs referenda to brake councils’ plans to steamroller through solar power projects

Solarpark in Ostrožská Lhota

A Czech anti-corruption watchdog is helping citizens at several sites around the county to prepare referenda for or against plans for massive solar power plants. It is taking the unusual step because it says local politicians are riding roughshod over their wishes and curbing democratic discussion to get a share of the huge amounts of cash at stake.

Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International is offering to help citizens at a handful of locations across the country to hold votes on whether to support plans for huge solar power production parks. Transparency is not against renewable power but it says the plans are being pushed through by local councils regardless of local wishes because the investors are promising politicians a slice of the massive investment at stake.

Photo: Archive of Radio Prague
Petr Jansa is a top legal advisor at the watchdog: “We have several examples in the past few months where the investor offers quite big amounts of money to subsidise the municipality somehow in order to build a large power plant in the town or near it.”

Examples of projects where Transparency would like to hold local votes are at Krabčice, sited under the legendary Czech landmark Říp, Šebrov Kateřina in South Moravia and at Milovice in central Bohemia.

The solar plant at Milovice is a massive project on 150 hectares, around 200 full-sized football pitches - funded by state-dominated power giant ČEZ. That solar park would be one of the biggest in Europe.

Pressure on local councils and politicians to push the projects through stem from the current extremely generous Czech subsidies for solar generated power. These apply to projects which are completed this year but the support is almost certainly to be drastically cut from January.

In fact, the Czech upper house, the Senate, voted for changes to the law allowing sharp cuts in the solar subsidy on Wednesday. But in the short term, that vote will just fuel the ongoing solar power boom, a sort of latter day gold rush, witnessed in the country over the last few months. Companies will be desperate to get projects wrapped up by the end of the year so they can still claim some of the most generous prices for solar generated power in Europe.

Illustrative photo: Barbora Němcová
Mr. Jansa again: “This illustrates how easy money corrupts people or corrupts the democratic processes. Because at this point there is a time pressure also and everything needs to be fast so the democratic procedures are not followed or are avoided by the local politicians in order to gain some of the profit that is lying in the street, so to speak, at the moment with these power plants.”

He says the referenda result should be binding on the local councils and should at least stop these projects in their tracks so that they can be properly discussed.