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Czech Power Grid Says Solar Boom Risks Blackouts

CEPS AS, the Czech electricity-grid operator, said the pace of solar-power investment risks overloading the network and driving up prices for consumers.

Output from solar panels may overwhelm the grid by 2011 and plants may need to be temporarily disconnected to prevent blackouts, CEPS Chief Executive Officer Petr Zeman said today. Total solar capacity may reach 3,000 megawatts in 2015, six times last year’s level and about half the country’s off-peak consumption at summer weekends, the state-run company said.

“We warn investors that their investments might be at risk,” Zeman told a press conference in Prague. CEPS may have to start phasing out plants to prevent a grid overload in the summer of 2011, he said. “When the share of renewables exceeds 1,000 megawatts, the stability of the grid will be threatened and we’ll have to switch some sources off.”

Czech power producers receive the highest prices in Europe for solar energy, guaranteed by law at 12 koruna ($0.63) a kilowatt-hour, CEPS said. A bill currently in parliament would cut the so-called feed-in tariff for new projects, which has led to a rush of applications from investors hoping to get permits under the existing conditions.

CEPS last week called on regional power distributors to stop issuing permits to new projects while it invests 5 billion koruna a year to boost grid capacity, Pravo newspaper reported on Feb. 11.

Consumer Price Risk

With solar feed-in tariffs about 10 times higher than the cost of power generation at nuclear plants run by state-owned CEZ AS, the solar boom also threatens to push up prices for consumers, according to CEPS board member Miroslav Vrba.

The Czech Wind Energy Association, or CSVE, rejected CEPS’s call for a cap on new renewable-power projects today, citing regulations that require investors to prove the network can accommodate their planned capacity before receiving a permit.

“The situation is not as critical as described” by the grid operator, Michal Janecek, CSVE’s chairman, said in an e- mailed statement before CEPS’s press conference. “CEPS is misleading the public.”

The Czech Republic needs to build more wind and solar-power plants to meet its target of producing 8 percent of electricity from renewable sources this year, CSVE said.