Murmansk willing, but still drags its feet about adopting regional clean energy programme

Publish date: September 20, 2009

MURMANSK – The Murmansk Region in Russia’s north – just like the rest of the sprawling country – has an interest in developing clean energy, but can for now do little to back its good will with concrete measures.

Such was one of the conclusions reached at a renewable energy forum held recently in Murmansk. It was a disappointing ending to Bellona’s Northwest Russian Renewable Energy Forum that took place last week as an effort to mobilise government and environmental efforts on harnessing the areas vast potential for alternative energy.

Instead, local administration officials barely bothered to attend, marking the stark difference between former Governor Yury Yevdokimov’s willingness to include renewables in the regions energy mix, and new Governor Dmitry Dmitriyenko, who had remained basically mum on the subject.

Participants in the forum pointed out that such an approach was an enormous waste.

“World economic potential of renewable energy sources is estimated at 20 billion tonnes of nominal fuel, which is twice as much as one year’s worth of production of all other kinds of fuel,” Viktor Yelistratov, head of renewable and hydro energy chair at St. Petersburg State Polytechnical University, told forum participants.

According to Yelistratov, costs of energy generated by renewable energy sources, hydropower stations, and thermal power plants, are commensurate, but it is the development of renewable energy that countries worldwide tend to invest more and more in.

As Yelistratov’s data show, global investments into renewable energy sources came to over $100 billion last year and are expected to reach a level of $130 billion this year. Experts foresee a 17-fold increase in wind energy production over the next 30 years, making the phrase “non-conventional energy sources,” which is currently used to refer to non-carbon-based fuels, an obsolete coinage.

Wind energy
In 2008, the combined installed capacity of wind turbines worldwide exceeded 120 million kilowatt. The United States, Germany, and Spain remain undisputed leaders in this sector, though China has lately been gaining fast on its Western competitors, stepping up dynamically its wind energy production.
In particular, in 2008, newly launched wind capacities in the United States reached a combined total of 8.4 million kilowatts, while in China, that figure was 6.3 million kilowatts. By contrast, Russia’s wind turbines have an installed capacity of between 14 and 16 megawatts.

“Of course, thanks to the renewable energy development programme, Russia expects a 7,000-kilowatt increase by 2020, but in my opinion, this figure is overblown,” said Yelistratov.

The problem seems to be that Russia lacks the necessary mechanisms to drive such development programmes forward.
“It is impossible to be talking about any development of renewable energy sources in our country in the absence of any production of [generation] capacities,” Yakov Blyashko said during the Bellona Forum. Blyashko is a representative of INSET, a St. Petersburg-based company specialising in the development, production and installation of hydroelectric microplants.
“Russia has no manufacturers of wind energy installations, and this problem needs to be solved,” Blyashko continued. “Buying used turbines abroad means committing to another 20 years’ worth of falling behind in the development of renewable energy sources in Russia.”

In Blyashko’s assessment, manufacturing capacities for the development of clean energy in the country has what it takes to become another national project, representing a whole sector of the domestic economy.

Wind energy in the Murmansk Region
Elsewhere in the world, the fast-paced accrual of clean energy capacities has been greatly assisted by the adoption of favourable legislation that allows for a diverse range of subsidies and benefits available to those wiling to engage in the development of renweables. In Russia, relevant federal legislation is just now in its initial stages, making renewable energy development an option limited to a scale of regional initiatives. The Murmansk Region is one such case.

Here, a task group has been put together that includes representatives of regional government, scientists, and ecologists and which in the past two years has been working out a renewable energy development programme, an initiative backed by RUR 800,000 ($546,9560) in regional budget funds. The task group was formed on an assignment from the previous regional government, led by Yury Yevdokimov, who, in lending his ear to environmentalists’ bids, pledged to augment the share of renewable energy in the region’s energy economy to 20 percent by 2020.
Yet, as Alexander Nikolayev, the Murmansk Region’s deputy minister for energy and housing and public utilities, admitted at the forum, “Even though we expect to build two wind parks in  the Murmansk Region, I cannot say when this regional programme will be adopted.”

“The regional programme has been in the works for two years. Contributions to this work have come from representatives of Murmansk Region government, scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Kola Scientific Centre, experts from Bellona and other ecological organisations. Unfortunately, as the regional government changed, adopting this programme has been put off indefinitely,” Bellona-Murmansk’s renewable energy projects coordinator Yury Sergeyev told forum participants.

Bellona’s clean energy consultant Michele Groenbech added: “As of yet, the government of the Murmansk Region has not taken a position on this programme. We do not know which of the projects envisaged in this programme will be adopted and approved for funding.”

Still, Sergeyev is not losing heart: “We hope that in the very near future, the government of the Murmansk Region will examine and approve the prepared programme and make a decision on financing its projects.”

“An international economic forum is soon to take place in Murmansk, which will gather together prominent politicians, economists, private investors, and other concerned parties in the region, said Sergeyev. “This will be an excellent opportunity to jump-start a number of projects, including ones on renewable energy.”

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