Sun-baked Bulgaria, windy Poland and farm-rich Hungary have thousands of megawatts in untapped renewable energy that the European Union wants used to fight global warming.
But eastern Europe remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels, causing friction between older and newer EU members as the bloc pushes an ambitious plan to boost its reliance on green energy.
About 94 percent of the electricity for coal-rich Poland comes from coal-fired plants, a major source of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
"They are lagging behind," Beatriz Yordi, an EU official in charge of promoting renewable energy, said of eastern European member nations. "And we are pushing them to catch up."
But in Poland, for example, leaders are disinclined to cut coal use, which helps limit dependence on Russian oil and gas. And with a 15 percent unemployment rate — the EU's highest — cutting jobs in an industry that employs roughly 200,000 people could be political suicide.
"For the government, it's better to have 100 people working in mines than one or two men working in wind generation," said Jaroslaw Mroczek, president of the Polish Wind Energy Association.
European leaders adopted an ambitious set of goals this month to cut carbon emissions by at least 20 percent from 1990 levels. By then, at least 20 percent of Europe's energy should derive from renewable sources such as wind, solar panels and hydroelectricity.
They also decided to increase energy efficiency by 20 percent, and to ensure that at least 10 percent of fuels will come from biofuels like ethanol.
The EU is likely to allow lower targets for the new EU members, acknowledging their late starting point and the persistent economic problems after decades under communism in 10 of the 12 new members. Negotiations to set the targets for each country are expected to start this year.
The sunniest of the new EU members — Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta — have high potential for solar power generation. And wind, expected to play the biggest role in weaning Europe away from fossil fuels, could make a huge impact in Poland, Romania and the Baltic states, experts say.
Biomass, which involves using plant matter like corn and forest residue to make ethanol and fire power plants, has great potential in farm-rich countries like Poland and Hungary.
One of the better performers so far, in fact, has been Hungary, where biomass energy is on the rise and has already replaced some coal-fired power stations. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany has said he believes his country could get as much as 16 percent of its energy supply from renewable sources by 2020.
But obstacles include tight budgets, expensive initial investments, technical barriers to linking renewable energy to existing power grids and continued subsidies for coal and nuclear power.
With governments moving slowly, private initiatives are taking the lead.
"The renewable energy market has been booming in the past two years," said Clifford J. Aron, president of GreenMax Capital Advisors, a Warsaw-based company that helps investors finance renewable energy projects throughout eastern Europe.
In wind energy, so many foreign investors want a piece of the action that "there aren't a lot of projects that you can develop that haven't been thought of by somebody already," Aron said.
"The price to acquire these projects is being pushed up to levels that exceed what people pay in western Europe," he added.
Though eastern Europe might be trailing in clean energy use, it shares the West's concerns about climate change and other environmental problems, and about dependence on foreign oil and gas. The drive for greater energy independence got a push in the past winters from Russian disruptions of supplies to Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia amid political spats.
And Zbigniew Kamienski, a Polish Economy Ministry expert, noted that eastern Europeans still consume much less energy per person than their richer western neighbors due to more modest lifestyles.
"We need to remember," Kamienski said, "that consumption of energy is still two to three times lower than in the old EU member states."