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Slovakia: The search for alternatives to Russian gas

December 15, 2022

Slovakia is dependent on Russian energy and is badly hit by Putin's squeeze on gas supplies to Europe. Renewable energy could help in the long term and Slovakia has high potential, but progress is very slow.

Wind turbines in Slovakia
Slovakia's current wind energy output is 166 times lower than the target outlined in its national Energy and Climate PlanImage: Marijan Murat/dpa/picture alliance

Russia's reduction in gas supplies to Europe is forcing European Union countries to consider alternative energy sources. While this is also true of Slovakia, this small Central European country's high dependency on Russian gas makes it exceptionally vulnerable.

The Slovak Institute for Financial Policy has said that of all the four countries in the Visegrad Group (Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic), Slovakia's economy will be worst hit by the energy crisis. While economic growth in Poland is expected to slow by 4.9% in 2023, the decline in growth in Slovakia is expected to exceed 7% over the same period.

The Slovak nuclear power plant at Jaslovske Bohunice in western Slovakia
Most of the energy generated in Slovakia comes from its two nuclear power plants, one of which is at Jaslovske Bohunice in western SlovakiaImage: Filip Singer/epa/dpa/picture alliance

One possible solution to the energy supply problem is to exploit the full potential of Slovakia's renewable resources, which include wind, solar and geothermal energy.

One-fifth of Slovakia suitable for wind farms

According to a study by the Slovak Association of the Photovoltaic Industry, which was written in cooperation with the energy expert Boris Valach and the Austrian company Energiewerkstatt, approximately 20% of Slovakian land is suitable for wind farms.

Right now, there are only two wind farms in Slovakia, both situated in the west of the country several kilometers from the nearest village. Together they produce 3 MW of power.

Turbines in poor condition

One is situated near the village of Cerova and was built in the protected landscape area known as the Little Carpathians in 2003. Despite the government's plan to build more turbines, the wind farm near Cerova currently has four turbines, only one of which is in use. The other three are in need of repair after 18 years of service. When operating to capacity, the farm can produce energy to power 1,200 households.

Jan Karaban, chairman of the Slovak Association of the Photovoltaic Industry
Jan Karaba, head of the Slovak Association of the Photovoltaic Industry, would like the government to be more vocal in its support for wind powerImage: Slovak Association of the Photovoltaic Industry

Slovakia's second wind farm lies on a hill known as Ostry vrch and can produce enough energy for 250 households.

Lagging far behind its own targets

Slovakia's national wind energy plan is much bolder than suggested by these two wind farms. The Energy and Climate Plan for the years 2001–2030 estimates that the country could generate 100 MW of wind energy by the end of 2022 and 500 MW by the end of 2030. With only eight years to go until the end of the period covered by this plan, Slovakia's current wind energy output is 166 times lower than the target outlined in the plan.

The Environment Ministry claims that public resistance to wind farms is to blame for the lack of progress, saying that local communities are often opposed to wind power projects. "The inhabitants are usually concerned about vibrations and the visual impact on the landscape, while they themselves usually cannot benefit from the wind farms near them," the ministry's press department told DW in a written statement.

But according to the wind power industry, there are other key obstacles to the development of the wind power sector in Slovakia, the main one being slow bureaucracy. For example, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) can take years to complete. Investors are calling for change.

Slowed down by the EIA process

"There could have been new wind farms near Nitra, another one close to Trnovec nad Vahom or another one near Duslo Sala. Investors are interested in numerous locations but none of these projects will be realized in the next four years because of the incredibly long EIA process," Jan Karaba, head of the Slovak Association of the Photovoltaic Industry told DW, adding that the EIA process in Slovakia is one of the strictest in the EU.

The nuclear power plant Mochovce in Slovakia
Slovakia has no plans to reduce the amount of energy generated by its nuclear power plantsImage: Milenko Badzic/imageBROKER/picture alliance

The Environment Ministry disagrees and says it is simply following European legislation. Many state authorities as well as the towns or villages where the wind farms are meant to be built have to be included in the process to ensure its objectivity and thoroughness.

The ministry points out that even green projects can threaten the environment: "A poorly situated wind power plant can have a visual impact on the landscape, cause noise pollution, result in visual intrusion and pose a threat to birds," the press department told DW, adding that state authorities are not responsible for any delays because they have to adhere to strict deadlines. The department said that delays are often on the investors' side since it can take years for them to prepare the necessary documentation.

Industry calls for change

The Slovak Association of the Photovoltaic Industry believes that a simpler EIA process would attract more investors to Slovakia to build wind farms, but the ministry does not plan to make any changes. According to the press department, all administrative processes in place are necessary to ensure the safety of such projects.

Coal mine in Handlova, central Slovakia
Slovakia is moving away from coal, shutting down its last coal mine in the Upper Nitra regionImage: CTK Eduard Genserek/dpa/picture-alliance

In addition to EIA, representatives of the industry are also calling on the ministry to be more vocal in its support for wind energy. "The Slovak Environment Ministry has never expressed public support for wind energy, while other European countries have run numerous campaigns about its benefits. Slovak citizens lack crucial objective information about this form of energy and rely on myths instead of facts," Karaba told DW.

Slovakia's other sources of energy

Most of the energy generated in Slovakia comes from nuclear power plants. Two currently produce more than half of the country's energy. One is situated in the west in Jaslovske Bohunice; the one in the south is called Mochovce. At the moment, Slovakia has no plans to reduce the amount of energy it generates from them. Instead, the National Climate and Energy Plan focuses on improving their safety.

Slovakia has also moved away from coal, shutting down its last coal mine in the Upper Nitra region, with state support for the sector set to stop in 2023.

Another important source of energy in Slovakia is thermal power, which in 2020 produced 25% of the country's total energy output.

Although there is certainly scope for improvement, Eurostat has some good news on renewable energy in Slovakia: According to its research, of all the Visegrad Group countries, Slovakia produces the greatest proportion of energy from renewable resources, namely 23% of its total energy production. By contrast, Poland generates only 16% and the Czech Republic 15%. The average in the EU is 37%.

Most of Slovakia's renewable energy comes from hydropower plants, which produce around 5,000 MW — 17% of the country's renewable energy production. By contrast solar panels produce around 540 MW of energy and are the second most important renewable resource in the country.

Edited by: Bettina Marx and Aingeal Flanagan

A red-haired woman (Sona Otajovicova) stands beside a large shrub and smiles into the camera
Sona Otajovicova Bratislava-based Slovakia correspondent