New poll shows renewable energy popular in Russia, despite Putin’s nuclear ambitions

Publish date: July 31, 2008

Written by: Victoria Kopeikina

MOSCOW - In the face of new announcements by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to pump $40 billion into Russia’s nuclear industry to build as many as 26 reactors over the next 12 years, the Russian public’s interest in renewable energy is at a peak – and support for nuclear is at a low.

According to a recent poll by the Fund for Social Opinion, or FOM in its Russia abbreviation, some 22 percent of Russians are looking to solar energy to replace oil, and another 10 percent favor hydroelectric power.

Only 7 percent of respondents saw nuclear energy taking on Russia’ increasing energy burdens, despite the enormous plans of the Putin government and the propaganda of Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom.

On the whole, according to the poll, 57 percent of Russians surveyed by FOM consider the increased use of already existing alternative energies to be a more promising strategy than the government push to open new oil fields – which is favoured by only 19 percent of those polled.

A margin of 13 percent of those surveyed consider the potential for alternative energy to be so high that they consider the projected drying up of oil reserves over the next 50 years not to be a problem.

But Putin has other ideas to solve the energy crunch.

“A terrific amount of money – more than 40 billion dollars – is to be allocated from the state budget for development of the nuclear energy sector and the nuclear industry by 2015,” he said in remarks yesterday.

“We’ll have to build 26 major generating units in Russia in the next 12 years – about as many as were built in the entire Soviet period.”

The financing for this enormous outlay – which is equal to Moscow’s yearly budget – will come, said Putin, from high oil revenues.

Budget and strategy
Countries whose governments put a focus on renewable energy tend to develop and use it more quickly. The number of countries that are currently introducing one or another system of alternative energy into their mix numbers 48, of which 14 are considered developing nations by the criteria of the United Nations.

Such decisions, say economists, are a significant steps toward making renewable energy a more attractive investment. What is also important, economists argue, is to announce levels that renewable energy will be expected to fulfill in the energy mix of a region or country.

For instance, the European Union predicts that by 2010 the overall use of renewable energy in Members States’ energy mix will double from 6 to 12 percent. This is evidence, say economists, that investment in renewable energy in those countries is welcomed and rewarded.

It is hard to predict if Russia – with its gargantuan oil projects and forecasts for nuclear energy – will take this route, and Russia’s government largely ignores public opinion.

Russia’s current energy strategy makes almost no mention of renewable energy sources. Only 1.5 percent of the overall electrical production for Russia will be accounted for by 41 new hydroelectric plants. Introducing wind farms, geothermal heat, and photoelectric stations is not even being considered.

There are, however, some dim hopes that renewable energy will make it into the government vocabulary. The draft Federal Budget for 2009-2011 predicts subsidising funding for renewable energy and specific projects.

“These steps could become the welcome mat for a broader energy policy that go beyond the framework of coal,” the Russian magazine “Russia in Global Politics.”

But Putin’s remarks of yesterday distract from any notions that renewable policies will be adopted on a large scale – at least in terms of propaganda – anytime soon.

Victoria Kopeikina reported from Moscow and Charles Digges reported from Oslo.