Regional energy transition plans need a roadmap with specific deadlines and activities linked to local authorities

Energy / Bulgaria
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The consultant of the European Commission for the preparation of regional plans for the transition of the coal regions will visit Bulgaria in few weeks. Therefore, the three regions identified so far - Stara Zagora, Pernik and Kyustendil must be fully prepared. In this regard, the Ministry of Energy expects to submit proposals for regional plans from the bottom up in order to be properly presented to the consultant. This was explained by Deputy Minister of Energy Zhecho Stankov during the online discussion "Regional Plans for a Fair Transition" organized by Utilities magazine. Energy expert Slavcho Neykov, for his part, proposed the development of a Roadmap with specific activities and deadlines. During the discussion it became clear that experts are slightly confused by the state's approach not only to regional plans, but also to decarbonisation - achieving carbon neutrality only through energy efficiency and integration of RES. This approach, as it becomes clear (not only from this discussion) is considered illogical, because it does not answer the question of ending an industry, what comes in its place and what will be the economic development that is to take place in the country. .

The term for preparation of a regional plan is 1 month, and the assignment must be completed within 12 months. The regional plans also cover the future of the workforce in the respective regions, Deputy Energy Minister Zhecho Stankov explained during the online discussion. The term for the preparation of a respective plan is 1 month, and then local meetings are planned, but given the crisis with the coronavuris, this will probably happen virtually. According to Stankov, of all the funds provided under the various funds, 49% are provided for regions with high carbon intensity, and 25% for coal-mining regions.

The preparation of the territorial plans is a key condition for receiving support from the Fund for a fair transfer in connection with the European Union. The fund focuses on the economic diversification of the territories, which are most affected by the climate change and the qualification and activity.

So far, three coal-mining regions have been identified in Bulgaria, for which the relevant regional plans are to be prepared with the EC consultant. However, as the Fair Transition Fund also covers high-carbon regions, the Ministry of Energy has identified eight more regions that will be restructured for decarbonisation. In this regard, Stankov explained that he has an agreement with international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the EIB to assist in the preparation of regional plans for these eight regions with high energy intensity.

According to Zhecho Stankov, no one expects Bulgaria to be carbon neutral by 2050, provided that there are countries with a climate for this.

"We are based on a plan to integrate energy from renewable sources into the grid through investments in its digitalization (on the grid). Renewable energy can be considered as energy efficiency when it is for own consumption, "he explained. According to him, funds will be directed to the business of installing photovoltaic panels on the roof and near buildings. This will be combined with the process of renovating private and public buildings. In this way, a reduction in the carbon footprint is expected.

The Ministry of Regional Development, for its part, will have at its disposal through the Recovery and Sustainability Plan about BGN 3 billion for energy efficiency, plus improved lighting, it became clear from the explanation of the Deputy Minister of Regional Development Denitsa Nikolova. In particular, she focused on the so-called "Green pillar" of the Sustainability and Recovery Plan. According to her, the challenges are many, due to the "overlap" of tasks, as well as the funds that will be managed through three funds. It will be based on an even distribution so that one territory does not dominate another. The ministry is currently working on three regional plans and is preparing to begin work on five more, she explained. Once approved by the EC, the regional plans must become part of the Regional Development Plan. According to Nikolova, it is not the values that are worrying, but how a territory is transformed with the consequences for it and, respectively, for the labor force, for the people who inhabit it.

Energy expert Slavcho Neykov emphasized the need to prepare a roadmap with clear deadlines and parliamentary docking of relevant regulations.

Everyone is waiting for the state to tell them what to do. That is, a road map is needed, said Slavcho Neykov. It must not only be specific. All positions and actions must be docked in it. The expert also advocated the application of a regional approach. There is a great desire to create local structures to support the process, but at the local level there is still no connection with the regional authorities, he said. In this regard, he pointed out that in a serious revision, the Bill on Industrial Zones, which in its current version is rather harmful, may be linked to regional plans. However, intervention is needed at both government and parliamentary levels. At the level of the National Assembly, unity and continuity of the regional plans in the Recovery and Sustainability Plan, as well as in the Energy Strategy of Bulgaria, must be ensured in practice.

The Recovery and Sustainability Plan is not and cannot be developed as a separate document, but should be logically linked to the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan (INPEC), as well as to the new (still as a project) energy strategy of Bulgaria, the expert believes.

Regional plans for a fair transition should reduce emissions, said Kristina Lazarova, coordinator of the Brown to Green Platform. She pointed out that nothing is heard about pilot projects for hydrogen, energy storage, gasification.

Rumyana Grozeva from the Agency for Regional Economic Development, for her part, focused on the work of the institution specifically in the Stara Zagora region. She insisted that Stara Zagora remain in focus for targeted support.

Valentin Vuchev from CITUB trade unions, for his part, focused on the challenges related to economic and social activities in the regions after the cessation of coal mining operations in particular in the Stara Zagora region.

Ivaylo Naidenov from BFIEC – the organization of big energy consumers, presented a different point of view, in particular aimed at the transformation of industrial zones, such as Maritsa Iztok. He drew attention to the energy infrastructure of the Maritsa Basin, emphasizing the capabilities of aggregators and their contribution to decarbonization through the creation of integrated energy communities.

It can be said that at this stage, even among experts, there is uncertainty about the regional plans for the transition to a low-carbon economy. Due to the scattered and partially submitted information, there is no clarity about the possibilities and the various mechanisms under the European funds and programs to which the business should be oriented. The most disturbing is the state's approach to achieving carbon neutrality through energy efficiency with renewable energy sources. In this way, the energy sector as such is completely ignored and runs the risk of shutting down not only the coal sector but also other conventional facilities. In practice, no alternatives are indicated.

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