Czech power policy slammed by energy analyst

Michal Šnobr, photo: Alžběta Švarcová

A well-respected Czech energy analyst says the Cabinet has got it all wrong with its long term energy strategy but reckons it will confront reality soon and have to go back to the drawing board.

Michal Šnobr, photo: Alžběta Švarcová
Prague-based J&T analyst Michal Šnobr is a welcome face on any discussion panel about his adopted subject, energy policy – perhaps not for other panel members, but for the audience at least.

The word adopted is apt because, as Šnobr proclaims, he came to the sector by accident after buying some shares in Czech electricity giant ČEZ and then keenly tried to keep tabs on how the company was doing and what the management was up to. Understandably, given the complexity of the energy scene and company, this has become his full-time job.

Šnobr is good value for money even during post-prandial panel sessions when the audience feet are usually itching to get away or in some soporific parallel world. The reason is that he cuts through to the basics and is not afraid to say that the emperor has no clothes, even though a dozen other experts might be saying he is amply suited and booted.

And Wednesday’s shared EU and Heinrich Boll Foundation discussion on the European energy union and Czech energy policy, showed Šnobr in good form, although somewhat jaded by many conference appearances and the impression that Czech decision makers advance their policies regardless of the public and other opinions.

Šnobr pulled few punches in tearing into Czech energy policy and the recently approved national nuclear development programme. His basic argument is that the energy scene is changing so fast and is so unpredictable that the sort of long term 40-year ahead plan that has just exited the Ministry of Industry and Trade and been cleared by the Czech Cabinet is just pie in the sky.

In particular, Šnobr argues that the Czech plans to have more than half of electricity generation based on nuclear power within 40 years are just preposterous. Whatever the arguments about the technology, and Šnobr insists he is no anti-radioactive radical, the planning, preparation, and construction costs of nuclear plants are simply far too long and heavy for a small country like the Czech Republic to shoulder. Smaller, faster, and more flexible energy sources should be chosen if needed, although the Czech Republic faces no immediate energy crisis that needs to be solved, he explains. Natural gas and renewables could fit the bill, he adds.

In spite of the cost and timeframe problems, Czech energy policy has proved remarkably consistent and supportive of nuclear power over the last decades whatever political party or coalition has been in power. There seem to be two main reasons for this: there is reckoned to be a lot of Czech nuclear know-how out there which needs to be employed and using the domestic grey matter and local construction and engineering companies can help boost the overall economy. With any luck, the grey matter and Czech companies can work on other similar projects abroad as well. This argument was, more or less, put forward by one government official on Wednesday. Most of the other energy sources and know-how are imported as well, he added.

For all the arguments that the new Czech energy plans gives certainty to investors, Šnobr sees it becoming unstuck within 10 years when whatever government is around has to admit that it can’t find anyone else to build nuclear power plants and does not want to foot the whole bill itself. It will then be back to drawing board once again.