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Energy Brigades hit near Mochovce

This summer, troops rolled through the west Slovak village of Starý Tekov. The young soldiers carried weather stripping, insulation, energy efficient lightbulbs - standard weapons in the war against energy waste. The group, calling themselves the Energy Brigades, pounded through the village pitching half-price materials and free labor to residents. Their mission? To promote energy conservation in this village of 1,600 just a few kilometers from the nuclear power plant under construction at Mochovce. "Rather than just protesting [against the plant], we wanted to give a positive example of energy savings," said Pavol Široký, the founder of the project. "We wanted to offer them an alternative."


Energy Brigadeer at work.
Juraj Rizman

This summer, troops rolled through the west Slovak village of Starý Tekov. The young soldiers carried weather stripping, insulation, energy efficient lightbulbs - standard weapons in the war against energy waste.

The group, calling themselves the Energy Brigades, pounded through the village pitching half-price materials and free labor to residents. Their mission? To promote energy conservation in this village of 1,600 just a few kilometers from the nuclear power plant under construction at Mochovce.

"Rather than just protesting [against the plant], we wanted to give a positive example of energy savings," said Pavol Široký, the founder of the project. "We wanted to offer them an alternative."

The brigades grew out of an environmental camp organized by the group Za Matku Zem (For Mother Earth). Forty campers aged 18 to 25 took part in the project, and ten headed into the village each day, hammers and duct tape in hand. The group offered to completely insulate houses - sealing doors and windows, adding foil reflectors behind radiators, installing floor insulation, and wrapping hot water pipes - at no charge. Backed by a grant from the Regional Environmental Center in Banská Bystrica, they offered energy-saving materials for half price - energy efficient bulbs that usually run 425 Sk sold for 200 Sk. The changes, they explained to villagers, could translate into 10-20 percent savings on electricity and heating bills, for a cost of about 600 Sk. In town for just two weeks, the brigades were besieged. "The last week, people asked us for stuff and we had to say, 'Sorry, we're sold out,'" said Juraj Krivošík, Za Matku Zem's director.

In total, the group tackled 56 buildings, including a restaurant and a small factory. The owner of a local campsite bought 20 low-wattage bulbs, which would result in savings of thousands of crowns a year, Krivošík said; most of the rest will have to wait two years to see payback, he added. A similar project in the Czech Republic in 1994 and 1995 - which provided a model for Za Matku Zem's brigades - saved participants an estimated 20 percent on their heating costs, according to Krivošík.

"We will stay in touch with these people," Široký said. "They will send us their bills, so we will know how much they saved." They hope to continue next summer in another village near Mochovce.

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