Monday, 7 May 2012

FORCE blog series 1: Orthodox Community Embraces Renewable Energy in the Czech Republic

High on a windmill, hidden amongst the
 cherry orchards and the wheat fields of 
Eastern Czech Republic, is a painting of
 a raven with a piece of bread in its mouth. 
The prophet St. Elias the Tishbite was 
kept alive by ravens feeding him bread
 when he was hidden in the desert. This
 is the St. Elias windmill and it belongs to
 the Pravoslavná Akademie Vilémov, a
 non-profit Orthodox NGO specialized 
in renewable energy.
“Everything was given to us by God to survive,’ says Roman Juriga, director of the Akademie, 
“that includes the energy and the capacity to create energy, that is why we have 
named our turbine St. Elias.”
 Roman Juriga, is a devout member of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia.
 He grew up in communist Czechoslovakia as an atheist as ordered by state decree. 
Outspoken and anti-communist, secretly he studied English, and secured entrance to an 
international English school where he received a better education. Joining the Orthodox 
Church he was encouraged by leaders to attend University to study theology.
 He objected: the government knew he was anti-communist and if they discovered him 
studying, he would be thrown out. The Church offered their protection. Luckily, just as
 the authorities got wind of his studying, the 1989 Velvet Revolution happened and 
communism in Czechoslovakia disintegrated.

 After successfully completing his education, Mr Juriga
 established the Akademie, with the support of the
 church and Orthodox Monastery, in the little village of
 Vilemov. Through small scale solar, wind, and hydro 
power, the Akademie educates kids and adults about 
renewable energy and climate change. The reaction has
 been incredibly positive from all groups, especially
 the secondary school students. Many of them say 
that the information provided by the Akademie is 
in complete disagreement with the information provided
 to the schools by the Temelin Nuclear Plant.
 Members of the Monastery and village are very proud
 of the installations. Additionally, several new solar 
thermal installations that were inspired by the Akademie
 have sprung up in the community, an anomaly for this 
area of the country. The Akademie offers free 
consultancy on renewable energy for other churches and church-related 
NGO’s. All this is made possible from the revenue from the 100kw
 St. Elias turbine.

Mr. Juriga has been instrumental in shining some light on the complicated world of clean 
energy bureaucracy in the Czech Republic. The approval process for small energy 
production is very difficult to navigate. Complicated submission procedures and reams
 of paper work protect the vested interests of fossil fuels, politicians and corporations. 
Mr. Juriga has become something of an expert in negotiating the submissions process 
and his successes have become examples and inspirations for others across the 
Czech Republic.

 Wind energy in the Czech Republic is lagging compared to Western Europe. 
This is partially due to propaganda by invested fossil fuel interests. However, 
Mr. Juriga recognizes that it is a natural progression for a church to move in the
 direction of small-scale energy production and that it is essential to the 
development of a post carbon world. He also believes that as the Czechs look to 
Germany and see the rapid deployment of clean energy, the future will look 
different in the Czech Republic.

 This blog post is part 1 of a series of wind energy stories from photographer
 Robert van Waarden. Next week meet Piet Willem Chevalier, Dutch mechanical 
engineer, bringing small-scale wind energy to Mali.

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