Sustainable Vision in Rural Czech Republic

“I tried to change things but I had to recognize that it wasn’t possible,” says Petr Pavek, leaning against his adobe straw bale house.  He gazes out on his property over looking the little town of Jind?ichovice pod Smrkem in the Czech Republic. In the fields below grow organic vegetables, and cows for organic beef graze in the pasture. A totem pole stands next to his pond and a composting toilet sits half finished. In the village a dog barks, and a lone car rumbles along the road.

Jind?ichovice seems like any other dwindling, quiet town in rural Czech Republic. But from where Petr stands, the view is drastically different. In the distance, two wind turbines lazily turn in the evening breeze. Beyond, eight sustainable houses stand in a row. Powered by renewable energy, these green-roofed houses were built to attract young people back to the community. When they were completed, over 100 applications poured in. The community selected 8 families and sold the houses at cost price.

It was Petr’s vision, as mayor of Jind?ichovice, and his team that has developed a different future for this community. Petr’s renewable energy mission and his desire to have a sustainable, local economy was the driving force behind getting the two windmills built. Now, the profits from the windmills are recycled into the community and the money is allocated for natural initiatives around the town. First up, re-naturalizing the waterways that were straightened during communist times.

Petr ventured for a time into the national political scene. Unfortunately, his ideas of sustainable, community-based development never gained traction in the heavily fossil fuel influenced government and he burned out.

“There is no way to change it. In the political way, you can’t change it, the only thing you can change is your own life,” says Petr Pavek “And I did, I do. As a mayor, I could change the life and the using of renewable and wind energy in my small town, but more, I couldn’t do. I tried to help wind energy and renewable energies become more common in Czech Republic, but the enemies are too powerful and it is difficult to fight them.”

Petr decided that it was time to get out of politics and moved back to Jind?ichovice to become an organic farmer. He is busy with a plethora of projects. Buildings sit around the property in differing states of construction. He is conducting little experiments with compost, weeds, soil and vegetables and their interaction with each other. He has planted a garden in a Native American tradition, corn and pumpkins with bean vines growing up the corn. Most of his income is derived from organic cattle and he is enjoying spending more time with his family.  He sums it up with, “I want to live an easy life, transparent in nature.”

This blog post is part 5 of a series of wind energy stories. Next week meet Pat Blount, a Irish entrepreneur who has changed the face of a community and made life long friends along the way. 

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 theTemelin 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.

Force – Roman Juriga

My newest photography project, Force, is a focus on the human side of wind energy. It demonstrates that wind energy it is not an aspect of the future but a lived reality right now for people and communities all over the world. This is the first in a series of posts to introduce these wind energy heroes. Partially supported by the GWEC, contact me if you wish to publish or support this project.


Mr. Juriga looks on the icon of Saint Elias. The wind turbine was named after Saint Elias, a prophet because Mr. Juriga believes that wind energy is prophetic in our need for a clean energy world.

“Everything was given to us by god to survive, that includes the energy and the capacity to create energy,” Roman Juriga.

Mr. Roman Juriga is the director of the Pravoslavná akademie Vilémov in the Czech Republic. The Orthodox akademie educates kids and adults about clean energy. Through installations of solar, wind, and hydro, they help visitors understand the benefits and possibilities of the renewable energy system. In a time when most NGO’s are suffering, the akademie is supported by the revenue from the energy created.

In his youth Mr. Juriga was an outspoken anti-communist. He learned English from textbooks to prepare for his escape from communism. He grew up as an atheist according to state decree and was forced into the manual labour lifestyle, working in various factories. When he discovered the Orthodox religion he felt it matched his values and the way that he wanted to live so he joined the church. Mr. Juriga was invited by the church to go to University to study theology. He said, ‘I can’t, they know that I am an anti-communist, I can not go and study.’ The church said that they would protect him. Luckily, just as the authorities finally got wind of his studying, 1989 happened and communism in Czechoslovakia disintegrated.

Mr Juriga strongly believes that community involvement and small-scale energy production is essential to the development of a post carbon world. His vision to establish the akademie was realised through the support of the Orthodox  church.  The akademie has been insturmental in shining some light on the complicated world of clean energy development in the Czech Republic. In the Czech Republic, and even more in Slovakia, the approval process for small energy production is swamped in bureaucratic procedure. Complicated submission procedures and tons of paper work protect the vested interests of fossil fuels, politicians and large companies. The headway that Mr. Juriga and his akademie have made in getting submissions approved have been an example and inspiration to others across the Czech Republic.

Mr. Juriga stands in the shadow of the Saint Elias wind turbine.

Mr. Juriga prays in the Orthodox church in Vilemov, Czech Republic.

Prague Photography – Quiet Moments in a Heart of Tourism

This morning I returned from Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. What a beautiful city! It has been 10 years since I looked down on the town from the castle. It has also been a while since I shared the streets with so many tourists. Prague is the premier tourism destination in central Europe. Everyone and their family was out on the sunny Saturday afternoon that I took my 85mm for a walk. Below are the moments of calm that I captured from the hustle. I hope you enjoy.