Murmansk Region taking big steps toward renewable energy

Publish date: April 11, 2007

Written by: Anna Kireeva

Translated by: Charles Digges

MURMANSK - The Murmansk Regional government has earmarked 800 thousand roubles ($28,000) to put toward the development of renewable energy sources for the area, and has already announced a tender for contractors to build these sources.

Though actual implementation of renewable energy sources runs in the upper millions of dollars, making $28,000 seem like a drop in the bucket, it is nonetheless a signal from Russian authorities that they are willing to consider alternative sources that are less dangerous and wasteful than those that currently power the Kola Peninsula – where Murmansk is located – such as oil and gas.

The discussion of alternative sources of energy also has the potential to shift the focus of authorities from the notion of maintaining the beleaguered Kola Nuclear Power Plant – several of whose reactors are operating well beyond their engineered life spans – which has long been a smoldering source of worry to its European neighbours.

Given the expense of such renewable energy programmes, however, Russia authorities must consider that countries where alternative energy projects have been successfully implemented – such as Germany Denmark and Sweden – have invested hefty government subsidies.

The first working group on the so-called Development of Non-traditional Forms of Renewable Sources of Energy convened last week with the participation of local administration representatives, environmental organisations, businesses, and scholars from the RAN Kola Scientific Centre.

The meeting laid out several suggestions addressing the necessity of creating, a regional legislative base to regulate and kick-start the development of renewable energy. The programme also addressed problems of energy savings, development of energy that focuses on renewable energy sources, and public education on such projects for those living in the Murmansk Region.

The demand for the present working group was forwarded in December of last year by local environmental groups during a round table discussion on the potential for developing renewable energy in the Murmansk Region. The environmental groups Nature and Youth and Ecodefence! arranged the discussion. Murmansk’s Regional Governor Yury Yevdokimov, who attended the December round table, signed off on the creation of the working group.

Over the next two weeks, the working group is tasked with suggesting the engineering brass tacks of what developing renewable energy sources in the Murmansk Region would entail.

The working group’s participants are taking into consideration all forms of renewable energy available on the Kola Peninsula – sources such at rivers and streams, tides, and solar energy, among others.

A priority, however, has been given to the development of wind energy, as the potential for harnessing it along the coastal regions of the Kola Peninsula are among the highest in European Russia.

Environmentalists and authorities differ over uses of wind power
Yet environmentalists and bureaucrats have different goals at heart. Vitaly Servetnikov of Nature and youth said that the working group meeting discussed wind energy only in relation to powering far-flung villages.

“This is totally not what we expected because we consider it necessary to build wind parks” which can power much larger areas, said Servetnikov.

According to Serventikov, Yevdokimov has voiced his support for covering some 20 percent of the Murmansk Region’s energy needs with wind power.

“Without the construction of powerful wind parks, this figure will be impossible,” said Servetnik.

Why more energy for the Murmansk Region?

The working group discussion also included the intentions behind producing energy from alternative sources. As it currently stands, the Murmansk Region has an energy surplus and exports power to the Karelia Region and across the border to Finland.

But according to Murmansk authorities, the discussion can only focus on the development of the energy potential of the Murmansk Region, and must leave aside such questions of substituting or partially compensating for other energy sources.

“It is important that clean energy be used exclusively for the needs of the Region, and not for purposes of sale to neighboring countries or regions,” said Nina Lesikhina, coordinator of energy project for Bellona-Murmansk.

According to Lesikhina, fossil fuel supplies, which are finite and are used primarily for power exports from the area, the development of alternative energy will compensate at least somewhat for the region’s dependence on gas and oil. This will reduce the environmental load on northerly nature and the sustainable development of the area.

Environmentalists’ recommendations
The environmental organisations Nature and Youth, Bellona-Murmansk and Geya are all of the mind that the enormous potential for renewable energy sources on the Kola Peninsula can not only substitute traditional pollution producing and dangerous energy stations, but can also increase energy output by harnessing free and endless resources provided by nature.

Environmentalists have also passed on their list of recommendations for fleshing out the alternative energy programme to the working group. They say it is necessary, specifically, to define a system of economic stimulation for the development of renewable energy. Such stimuli would include incentives like tax discounts and credits for investment in renewable energy development.

Among environmentalists’ demands are also environmental monitoring of areas surrounding sources of renewable energy production, the development in the Murmansk Region of industry specialising in the production of renewable energy sources, and the implementation of energy saving technologies at the sites of renewable energy sources.