Ukraine sees new virtue in wind power: It's harder to destroy

ODESA - The giants catch the wind with their huge arms, helping to keep the lights on in Ukraine — newly built windmills, on plains along the Black Sea.

In 15 months of war, Russia has launched countless missiles and exploding drones at power plants, hydroelectric dams and substations, trying to black out as much of Ukraine as it can, as often as it can, in its campaign to pound the country into submission.

The new Tyligulska wind farm stands only a few dozen miles from Russian artillery, but Ukrainians say it has a crucial advantage over most of the country’s grid.

A single, well-placed missile can damage a power plant severely enough to take it out of action, but Ukrainian officials say that doing the same to a set of windmills — each one tens of meters apart from any other — would require dozens of missiles. A wind farm can be temporarily disabled by striking a transformer substation or transmission lines, but these are much easier to repair than power plants.

“It is our response to Russians,” said Maksym Timchenko, CEO of DTEK Group, the company that built the turbines in the southern Mykolaiv region — the first phase of what is planned as Eastern Europe’s largest wind farm. “It is the most profitable and, as we know now, most secure form of energy.”

Ukraine has had laws in place since 2014 to promote a transition to renewable energy, both to lower dependence on Russian energy imports and because it was profitable. But that transition still has a long way to go, and the war makes its prospects, like everything else about Ukraine’s future, murky.

In 2020, 12% of Ukraine’s electricity came from renewable sources — barely half the percentage for the European Union. Plans for the Tyligulska project call for 85 turbines producing up to 500 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough for 500,000 apartments — an impressive output for a wind farm, but less than 1% of the country’s prewar generating capacity.

After the Kremlin began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the need for new power sources became acute. Russia has bombarded Ukraine’s power plants and cut off delivery of the natural gas that fueled some of them.

Russian occupation forces have seized a large part of the country’s power supply, ensuring that its output does not reach territory still held by Ukraine. They hold the single largest generator, the 5,700-megawatt Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which has been damaged repeatedly in fighting and has stopped transmitting energy to the grid. They also control 90% of Ukraine’s renewable energy plants, which are concentrated in the southeast.

The postwar recovery plans Ukraine has presented to supporters including the European Union, which it hopes to join, feature a major new commitment to clean energy.


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