Ukraine Seeks Renewable-Energy Investors to Loosen Russia’s Grip

Apr 18, 2014 12:00 am ET

(For more on the Ukraine conflict, see EXT2.)

April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Ukrainian officials say they’ve found a way to protect the nation from Russia: Go green.

Ukraine is seeking U.S. investment in its biomass, wind and solar power industries. The idea is to use renewable energy to curb its reliance on fuel imports from Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region last month and has troops massed on the border.

“Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine indeed brought energy security concerns to the fore,” Olexander Motsyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S. said at a renewable-energy conference at his country’s embassy in Washington yesterday. “I strongly believe the time has come for U.S. investors to discover Ukraine, especially its energy.”

Yesterday’s event was the start of a “road show” to highlight Ukraine’s renewable-energy potential, Volodymyr Shalkivski, the embassy’s first secretary for energy issues, said in an interview. Future events will be held at Ukraine’s consulates in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, he said.

Ukraine relies on Russian natural gas for heat and electric power. U.S. and European officials have been searching for ways to help Ukraine limit this dependence, including expediting U.S. approvals of facilities to export liquefied natural gas.

Russia will demand Ukraine pay in advance for natural-gas deliveries in a month unless the latter nation resumes payments, a move that may lead to disruptions in fuel supplies to Europe, President Vladimir Putin said yesterday during an annual televised call-in show.

40,000 Troops

Pro-Russian separatists have seized government buildings in eastern Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization estimates that 40,000 Russian troops are amassed on the border. The conflict has sparked the biggest standoff between the U.S. and Russia since the Cold War, and the U.S. and its European allies have threatened further sanctions if Russia doesn’t calm the situation.

Talks in Geneva between Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the 28-nation EU yesterday ended with an accord to help de-escalate the conflict, after Putin said he hopes he won’t have to send in troops.

As leaders seek to reduce tensions, Ukrainian officials say one way to replace Russian gas is through home-grown renewable energy production. Motsyk said the U.S. and the EU should consider strategic partnerships to invest in the country, while acknowledging the inherent risk, given the economic and security climate.

Capital Needed

“The resources are there,” though a major challenge is attracting capital, Todd Foley, senior vice president for policy and government relations at the American Council on Renewable Energy, said at the embassy conference. The Washington-based nonprofit group co-hosted the event, along with the Energy Industry Research Center, a Kiev-based consultancy.

According to the research center, biomass and biogas are the most promising forms of renewable energy for Ukraine, in part because the nation’s network of electric-power lines and substations can’t easily adjust to the addition of significant amounts of wind and solar energy.

Biomass may help replace natural gas used in the nation’s 24,000 boiler plants, officials from the Energy Industry Research Center said.

Boiler Makers

Vadym Glamazdin, the center’s managing director, said Ukraine is seeking strategic partnerships with U.S. businesses, though it hasn’t identified potential companies. Babcock & Wilcox Co., based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and closely held Hurst Boiler & Welding Co. of Coolidge, Georgia, are among companies that make boilers.

Babcock & Wilcox , which didn’t have representatives at yesterday’s conference, has been working closely with the Ukrainian government to explore a fuel switch from natural gas to coal, Patrick Wilson, the company’s director of government affairs for energy, said in a phone interview. He said the company has proposed a five-plant pilot project worth $1 billion to convert the fuel.

“The number one reason for making the fuel switch is to increase the energy security of Ukraine,” Wilson said in a phone interview. Clean-coal technology can replace some of Ukraine’s inefficient natural gas plants, providing a bridge to renewable fuels, he said.

Glamazdin of the Energy Industry Research Center said Ukraine’s heating supply accounts for about 40 percent of all gas imported from Russia, which could be replaced with renewable energy within three to five years.

By 2030, renewables could account for about 15 percent of Ukraine’s electricity supply, up from about 2 percent now, with adequate investment, he said.

--With assistance from Henry Meyer, Olga Tanas, Ilya Arkhipov and Elena Mazneva in Moscow and Nicole Gaouette in Washington.