Wednesday, 25 Apr 2001

YALTA, Ukraine

It is inspiring to be in the Crimea. The landscape is spectacular — the land rises from the breakers of the Black Sea up 5,000-foot mountains of ancient rock. The air is clean and the forests are full of unfamiliar birdsong.

Inspiring, too, are the extraordinarily dedicated and tireless activists working for a clean energy future with the Crimean Association of Ekologiya i Mir (Ecology and Peace). The challenge seems so much greater here than in the U.S. that it’s humbling. The energy sector in the Crimea is deep in debt, and it is unable to collect payment for much for the electricity it supplies because incomes are so low. The banks will not make loans for new power-generation projects (90 percent of electricity is imported here) except at ridiculous interest rates over 35 percent.

Yet here at the “Clean Energy for Crimea” conference in Yalta, activists have assembled top government officials, scientists, engineers, and business leaders to discuss how to overcome the challenges and forge ahead with strategic reforms, solar power, wind, and energy efficiency projects.

What Ekologiya i Mir is doing is similar in many ways to what Climate Solutions is doing in the Pacific Northwest. Both organizations are articulating a vision for the region that combines economic and environmental benefits, and are working to bring together key players to foster fresh, exciting, strategic partnerships to turn this vision into reality.

For our “Clean Energy Is Economic Opportunity” program, which aims to help the Pacific Northwest become a global center for clean energy technology, Climate Solutions is engaging economic development, technology, investment, and energy organizations. For our “Harvesting Clean Energy for Rural Development” program, which strives for the widespread deployment of renewable energy to foster economic development in the rural Northwest, we are reaching out to landowners, utilities, and other rural leadership.

Just as we have used conferences to catalyze new collaborations, Ekologiya i Mir, with the help of the Center for Safe Energy, is doing the same here in Yalta. Their hopes for the “Clean Energy for Crimea” event are:

  • to elevate clean energy as a priority on the government’s agenda;
  • to decide on the most important actions to work on to turn the Crimean Parliament’s very positive goals into reality;
  • to assemble a broader, stronger coalition to lobby for clean energy action;
  • to begin to help Crimean business leaders organize joint ventures to build clean energy projects.

After a morning of opening speeches (and amazing simultaneous translations), we break into American-style working groups on solar power, wind, and energy efficiency, complete with circular seating and framing questions designed to foster discussion.

At the end of the day, we all report active and engaged groups, and even some heated passions as frustrations with government malfeasance and severe economic constraints boil over. The profound differences between Crimean and U.S. energy institutions and economics made it hard for us Americans to know what to say that would be valuable here. But there is energy and excitement at the conference; people are recreating the institutions of their society. Now, the challenge is to make the most of the final two days.

Tomorrow, the Americans will make their main presentations, along with more dignitaries and NGO leaders from Crimea. Then the conference will hear and discuss summaries of the workshops, setting the stage for the last day’s “Action Roundtables.” This is where the rubber meets the road, priorities are decided, strategies are forged.

I will report back with final reflections on the outcomes of this very unusual week in my life as an activist.

Dobray den!