Environment Ministry overhauls flagship carbon cutting programme following cool response

Global warming is climbing ever higher up the agenda as world leaders prepare for a key meeting in December to agree on emissions cuts. The Czech Republic would have liked to go to the Copenhagen meeting brandishing a successful flagship programme for saving energy and cutting greenhouse gases. Unfortunately that programme has got a cool response and has been hurriedly overhauled.

The Ministry of Environment unveiled its Green Saving programme amid a blaze of publicity earlier this year with confident predictions that up to 250,000 Czechs would rush to take advantage of the subsidies on offer to better insulate their homes or switch to renewable solar energy or heat pumps.

It was the most ambitious subsidy programme of its kind with the ministry able to draw on 25 billion crowns, around 1.4 billion dollars, earned from selling unused carbon pollution credits to Japan.

Four months on, the public uptake has been disappointing to say the least with just 205 projects cleared to take up the cash on offer.

Jaroslav Hanák is deputy director of the Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic. He denounced the programme when he appeared on Czech Television.

“This programme was extremely populistic from a political viewpoint. It was not very well prepared and so has ended up like this. Today, it is a big zero – 205 projects and I do not know how they divide between heating, solar equipment or heat pumps – but it is zero. After four months, miserable, nothing.”

The Ministry of Environment announced sweeping changes to the programme on Monday to rally more Czechs to embark on heat saving and energy-cutting home improvements.

The changes are a tacit admission that the previous programme calling for combined heat saving measures and involving costly and challenging paperwork was a turn off.

But Environment Minister Ladislav Miko also said that the economic crisis had also cooled Czechs’ ardour for heating improvements and the changes seek to take account of this.

“We are justifying these changes because of the impact of the crisis on citizens. At the beginning we simply counted on the programme plugging into the interest of people who wanted to heat their homes and invest in energy saving and ecological forms of energy. But the crisis has nonetheless had such an impact that people are now carefully weighing how to spend their money and we had to react in some way”

The simplified new look programme now offers grants for energy saving improvements to high rise flats for the first time. Czechs can also now apply for help for small, individual projects, such as just changing their windows, and get financial help when trying to prepare more complex projects. The projects must still, however, meet the basic target of at least 20 percent savings on heat losses.

Karel Polánecký is the energy expert for the environmental group Hnutí Duha. He says the simplifying changes should prove a major step in making the programme a success.

“We are sure that it is better to make more single measures in houses than only several, but very good, reconstructions. Each single measure, like changing a window or roof insulation, is supported. I think the most important barrier in the former conditions was the condition that you need to make some combination of measures”

Environment minister Miko says he is convinced that the 25 billion crowns can now be spent by the end of 2012. Money unspent by then will simply be returned back to Japan with the Czechs left in the cold with unusable carbon credits.