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Reports that senior politicians in the Czech Republic want to see ground mounted solar “disappear” are “more proof that the Czech Republic is a complete banana republic when it comes to energy policy“, one critic has said.

Georg Hotar, the Czech CEO of Photon Energy, originally founded in the Republic but now headquartered in the Netherlands, has long been vocal in his condemnation of renewable energy policy in his homeland. Hotar gave a statement to PV Tech yesterday on news that environment minister Richard Brabec has called for an end to new ground-mounted solar farms by 1 January 2016, claiming that the government is instead in favour of increasing the deployment of rooftop solar and replacing solar farms with agriculture.  

According to the interview with Brabec, carried earlier this week in newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes (Young Front Today) and subsequently reported by English-language news site Prague Daily Monitor, a planned New Green Savings Programme would subsidise rooftop solar deployment and make it easier for residential PV owners to connect to the grid. The plan would also remove the need for Energy Regulatory Office (ERU) licenses to generate power at small scales. The government will also support solar water heater technologies, Brabec reportedly said.

PV in the Czech Republic has long come under fire at a political level, perhaps most significantly in 2013, when retroactive cuts to support granted for plants built in 2009 and 2010 affected the industry badly, amid allegations of corruption on both sides and cronyism at political and regulatory level.

"The minister’s ramblings are just more proof that that Czech Republic is a complete banana republic when it comes to energy policy," Hotar said.

Hotar, whose company started out with a focus on developing ground-mount solar around Europe but has moved into other areas including O&M and energy storage projects and expanded to territories including Australia, said the interview contained "the usual lies“ about how much state support PV has been given to date, claiming that a cited figure of CZK45 billion (US$1.82 billion) a year was untrue.

In addition, Hotar said that Brabec’s words to the effect that solar farms could be physically dismantled after the FiT expires, 15 years after the plants were commissioned, as exposing a "ludicrous and delusional“ lack of knowledge of renewables on the minister’s part.

"Anybody who knows and understands how quickly the technology in the RE sector changes, also knows that making statements about 15 years from now is completely ludicrous and delusional,“ Hotar said, also accusing the minister of "effectively stating that in the future the state should be directly ordering private companies and land owners what to do with their properties and introduce another retroactive policy“.

Milos Cihelka of the Czech PV industry association CZEPHO told PV Tech that Brabec’s words on ground mount were not surprising and said that new utility-scale PV plants are not expected to be developed in the country. Retroactive and punitive measures imposed on the PV industry were "nothing new“, Cihelka said.

Minor conciliation on rooftop support

However, the announcement of intent to increase rooftop deployment was welcomed by both Hotar and Cihelka, albeit with some reservations.

Cihelka said the plans would mean "merely removing...bureaucratic obstacles and barriers for PV up to 10 kW” but said that “many barriers still remain”.

"It is certainly a good move,“ Cihelka said, adding that it would be inadequate.

“The next step should be repeated tax exemption on electricity for their own consumption, enabling net-metering etc.”

Hotar’s words were somewhat stronger.

"While we welcome the minister’s wish to revive rooftop PVs from their slumber – after the PV industry had almost been killed off by previous governments – we think he should rather get to work to eliminate the mountain of bureaucratic obstacles facing home owners and businesses who want to install PV plants, rather than spend his time repeating the same old nonsense about PV that has been disproven many times before.“

Photon Energy today announced that it has secured 11MWp of O&M contracts in Romania, including monitoring plant performance, the company’s first entrance into the Romanian market. Currently also providing O&M services to plants in countries including Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Australia, Hotar was clear in spelling out this morning that Romania’s PV industry faces a lot of the same challenges as the Czech Republic. Hotar has previously said in 2014 that retroactive cuts were "spreading like cancer" over Europe.

“Romania is an extremely interesting market for solar asset management, but sadly for all the wrong reasons,” Hotar said.

“Renewable energy entrepreneurs invested more than EUR6 billion (US$6.57 billion) in Romania, just in time for the government to utterly betray them and stab them with retroactive measures that hurt the value and financial results of their investments,” he said, playing up the importance of plant services in increasing the value of systems to their owners.

Minister's motives questioned

In talking about the latest news from the Czech Republic, Hotar questioned – or rather condemned  the motives and interests of environment minister Brabec.

Finance minister of the country, Andrej Babis, reportedly also among the Czech Republic’s richest men, is also the owner of Mladá fronta Dnes ('Young Front Today') and owns the largest agricultural conglomerate in the Czech Republic, Hotar told PV Tech.

"The minister’s statements must be seen in the context of his political affiliation to the polticial party ANO, of Andrej Babis.

"Babis owns the largest agricultural conglomerate in the Czech republic and has been on an anti PV-crusade for many years," Hotar added.