As Ukraine Eyes A Green Energy Plan, Russia Attacks…Coal?

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Ukraine’s green energy transition took a frightening twist overnight, when more than 1,000 coal miners in the Dnipropetrovs’k region were trapped underground by the latest Russian missile attack. Ukraine and its leading utility DTEK have already pledged to discontinue burning coal in power plants, in accord with other European nations. This latest act of violence against civilians provides all the more reason to shed fossil fuels as a national security threat, as well as an environmental one.

Russia Attacks Ukraine Power Grid Again

According to DTEK, Russia has attacked its thermal power plants in Ukraine more than 160 times since invading the nation in February of 2022. Forty of those attacks have occurred during the 2023-24 heating season.

DTEK provided an update on the latest attack earlier today, stating that “DTEK thermal power plants were hit” during a “large-scale enemy attack on Ukaine’s energy infrastructure.”

“Initial reports suggest two energy workers at our power stations have been injured. Our assessment of potential other casualties is continuing,” the company added.

DTEK described the attack as “severely damaging,” including the interruption of power to the coal mine in the Dnipropetrovs’k region.

“At the time, 1,060 miners were underground,” DTEK stated. “Immediately after the blackout, the company implemented emergency response plans, switched on backup power supplies and began evacuating miners to the surface.”

The evacuation was almost completed by 11:00 a.m. Ukraine time. Fortunately, so far none of the miners were found to be injured.

Ukraine Brings Green Energy Transition to Europe

Citing information from the Ukrainian government in Kyiv, earlier today Reuters reported that “Russia on Friday staged its largest air strike on Ukrainian energy infrastructure of the war, hitting a vast dam, killing at least five people and leaving more than a million others without electricity.”

Reuters noted that Poland, Romania, and Slovakia contributed emergency power supplies to Ukraine, helping to avoid blackouts across seven of the country’s regions.

The emergency aid underscores the growing inter-relationship between Ukraine and other EU nations as the entire continent transitions to green energy.

Romania has received EU funding to expand its green energy resources, including a new solar park billed as the largest in Europe. Poland is also in the running, including plans to exploit its offshore wind resources in the Baltic Sea.

So far Slovakia has put most of its decarbonization eggs into the nuclear energy basket. Green energy is mainly represented by the country’s existing hydropower resources, but its solar industry has shown signs of growth in recent years.  Wind energy advocates have been calling for the Slovakian government to take advantage of the nation’s wind resources as well.

Green Energy In Ukraine

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian organization Razom We Stand has been advocating for a green energy recovery as the nation continues to fight back. The organization’s latest report advocates for replacing old coal power plants and investing in a new, decentralized network of green energy projects.

Razom notes that Ukraine previously announced plans to phase out coal power at COP 2021, the United Nations conference on climate change, in alignment with similar commitments by 23 other European countries.

Just a few months later, in February of 2022, Russia began its unprovoked attack on Ukraine, including massive, intentional hits to civilian energy infrastructure.

Razom cites the United Nations Energy Charter Secretariat, which states that “no European energy system has ever experienced or withstood such large-scale destruction, including during the First and Second World Wars.”

“…Russia has deliberately attacked and extensively damaged Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, exposing the deep vulnerability of the centralized energy system,” Razom observes.

“Given the scale of the damage and Ukraine’s historical dependence on Russia for traditional energy, including imports of coal, gas, and nuclear fuel, restoring the Soviet-era energy infrastructure is out of the question,” the organization concludes.

The alternative, as described in the new Razom report, is an investment totaling $11.6 to $17.2 billion for wind, solar, cogeneration, energy storage, and other forms of decentralized, non-coal power sources.

More Green Energy For Ukraine: Who’s Gonna Pay For All This?

To buttress its case for investment, Ukraine has expressed its intention to join the European Union not as a supplicant, but as a powerful contributor to the EU economy. That includes providing additional support for the EU’s green hydrogen ambitions.

In June of 2022 Ukraine Special Representative Oleksandr Riepkin penned an op-ed published in Euro News, in which he describes a green hydrogen plan that began taking shape in 2021, leveraging the nation’s vast solar resources.

“Ukraine has everything needed to become a successful European player in the hydrogen market — and an important supplier of energy to the EU,” he wrote.

“The cities of Zaporizhzhia, Mykolayiv, Odesa and Kherson all get as much or more sunshine than central Italy,” he added. “Thanks to these regions alone, Ukraine would be able to provide enough green hydrogen for both domestic needs and the needs of Europe.”

In terms of Ukraine’s ability to export green energy to the EU, the hydrogen angle is significant because it provides several alternatives to transmitting electricity through long distance power lines. Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be transported by ship, road, rail, or pipeline.

Though Russia’s attack on Ukraine has created an environment of risk and uncertainty for energy investors, the United Nations is supporting a green recovery through its Development Programme branch, and the global financial community appears committed to support a green energy transition as well.

In November of 2022, BlackRock Financial Markets Advisory — an independent branch of the leading global investment firm BlackRock — signed an agreement with the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine to advise the country on public and private recovery investments.

“As part of the agreement…BlackRock FMA will advise the MoE on establishing a roadmap for the investment framework’s implementation, including identifying design choices for the envisioned setup, structure, mandate and governance,” BlackRock explained.

Of particular interest is the role of Fortescue Metals Group chairman Andrew Forrest, who BlackRock credits with connecting it to high level Ukrainian officials. Fortescue is relying on green hydrogen to decarbonize its vast mining operations.

In 2022, Fortescue also contributed $500 million to help seed the new Ukraine Green Growth Initiative with $25 billion. The fund is expected to top $100 billion.

“This investment fund will focus on primary infrastructure such as energy and communications to build a digital green grid, so Ukraine can become a model for the world as a leading digital green economy,” the organization explained in a press statement.

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Next Steps For A Green Recovery

Even before Russia’s invasion, the US Department of Energy was working with Ukrainian officials on a grid modernization and resiliency plan that puts green energy front and center.

DTEK’s newly built Tyligulsak Wind Power Plant is a compelling illustration of the overlay between green energy and resiliency. According to DTEK, it is the biggest single energy investment in Ukraine since the nation declared independence in 1991, and it is the only facility of its kind to be constructed in a major conflict zone.

“…the decentralized profile of wind farms makes them an unattractive target for missile attacks, requiring multiple strikes to fell individual wind turbines,” CleanTechnica noted last year. “Power lines and substations are more vulnerable, but they certainly don’t carry the potential for a catastrophic follow-on threat if damaged or destroyed, and the repair timeline can be relatively short.”

In the months leading up to the invasion, the Energy Department also helped Ukrainian grid operators plan for disconnecting from the Russian grid and forming new connections with European nations.

That circles back around to the emergency power assistance provided by Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. Polish President Andrzej Duda has warned that other European nations are next in line for attack, perhaps as early as 2026.

To the extent that other European nations are lending their power generation assets to help Ukraine resist Russia, it would not be surprising if such an attack comes much earlier, with power generation facilities in Poland, Romania, and Slovakia among the initial targets.

As a NATO member the US is required to aid other NATO countries under attack, which is something to keep in mind as Republican members of the US Congress continue to dig in their heels against additional aid to Ukraine, all but confirming their allegiance to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the safety and security of their own country.

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Image: The Ukrainian organization Razom We Stand advocates for wind, solar, and other features of a green energy recovery for Ukraine (courtesy of Razom We Stand).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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