Czech crusader against solar subsidies sentenced over suspect licenses

Alena Vitásková, photo: CTK

Eight years and six months was the sentence handed down to the head of the Czech Republic’s independent energy regulator for her part in a solar power scam costing billions of crowns. The feisty Alena Vitásková maintains her innocence and says she stay on in office and fight to clear her name.

Alena Vitásková,  photo: CTK
The severity of the sentence was itself one of the main eye openers of Monday’s verdict and sentencing. As the dust settled, some Czech papers pointed out that the jail term handed out was the same as that given to former top Social Democrat politician David Rath, who was found red handed with a wine box stuffed with 7.0 million crowns.

Both Alena Vitásková and her former head of licensing received the severest sentences handed out by the Brno judge. Slightly shorter terms were delivered to the owners of the two solar power plants in north Bohemia.

For the context, fast rewind back to 2010 and the Czech Republic was in the throes of a massive solar power boom fuelled by over generous state incentives. But desperate attempts were being made to put a lid on the billions of crowns promised in subsidies for the solar panels sprouting across the country. For those getting their panels licenced and up and running by the end of 2010 the bumper reward for the next decades would be double that for those who missed the end of year deadline.

And so it was that the two solar facilities at Chomutov somewhat suspiciously just made it at the last minute to get licensed on 31 December 2010. Alena Vitásková had not even been appointed head of the regulator then, but the judge ruled that she blocked an investigation into the suspicious last minute licenses a few months later even though the police were already probing the case.

After the sentence, Vitásková maintained her innocence and said she would fight on and appeal against it. She claims she is being framed to take a fall from the high profile post where she has publicly championed the cause of the energy paying Czech public against so-called ‘solar barons’ and big electricity and gas companies.

Photo: Miloš Turek
Spokesman for the Energy Regulatory Office, Jiří Chvojka, pointed out that the fact that the court case against his boss proceeded in the first place was bizarre since the circumstances of the suspect solar licenses are also being examined by another court.

“It is surprising that the judge delivered a guilty verdict since the chairwoman of the office maintains she is not guilty. The events as they have been described could not really happen that way. The whole affair is still subject to proceedings in the Administrative Court. If a decision was taken on how the licensing and whole process took place, then some criminal proceedings might follow. But to have things the other way round is very strange.”

Alena Vitásková is still subject to separate criminal proceedings over the appointment of a top official without the qualifications required. She’s been under fire for a long drawn out battle over the payment of around 45 billion in renewable subsidies this year and the office has now stirred up a big debate over how to share out the costs of the Czech electricity distribution and transmission network. If Vitásková is forced to quit her post at least she is likely to be remembered for a long time.