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Local Governments Face Energy & Climate Challenges: EU Rules, Public Demand, and Limited Power

ENERGYLocal Governments Face Energy & Climate Challenges: EU Rules, Public Demand, and Limited Power

Just over a week remains until the local elections. According to a new report from the Foundation Institute for Sustainable Development, the incoming local government will face many challenges in terms of energy and climate policy, resulting both from EU regulations and societal expectations. However, the active involvement of the local government in this area is as broad as the legal regulations allow. “There just aren’t certain solutions or they are in a quite burdensome way detailed and create considerable difficulty for local governments. Hence, the government’s intervention is needed to enable active local government action,” evaluates Dr. Wojciech Szymalski, president of the Foundation Institute for Sustainable Development.

“Many local authorities treat climate and energy issues as a priority, in fact, many local governments have already benefited from investments in renewable energy sources, climate protection projects or energy security on their territory. However, this does not yet apply to everyone. This obviously results from the various possibilities of local governments, but also from the fact that some things that we have to do in the field of energy and climate sometimes do not bring direct benefits to local governments. Local governments that gradually grasp this concept would like to see these benefits. That’s why we propose that solutions related to investing in energy be created in such a way that local governments receive long-term benefit, not just a subsidy for some investment,” explains Dr. Wojciech Szymalski, environmental protection expert and analyst, president of the Foundation Institute for Sustainable Development in conversation with Newseria Biznes agency.

The report published by the Foundation Institute for Sustainable Development shows that in the new term, officials will face many challenges related to climate policy and energy. “It seems that the most important challenge is the drive to create local energy systems that will be based on renewable energy sources,” says the InE expert. “In recent years, local government investments in RES have been somewhat blocked, this was an issue of blocking the construction of wind turbines, but also directing a larger amount of funds towards individual investments in solar energy. In Poland, we also do not invest too much in biogas plants, which local governments could do. In addition, there’s still a lot to do not only in the field of electricity but also in the field of heat, and local governments have a lot of heating networks in their possession, where the move towards RES is also very important.”

The report “Energy and Climate. Challenges for the new term of local governments in Poland” shows that the pressure on local governments in the upcoming term will be exerted both by regulations implemented by EU institutions (including the Mayor’s Agreement on Climate and the EU mission of 100 neutral and intelligent cities, fitting into European climate law), setting specific goals in the field of energy and climate protection, but also societal expectations, most vividly expressed by non-governmental organizations. Among the most important demands formulated by them is the enabling of the development of energy communities in cities (not only in rural and urban-rural municipalities), organizing educational and informational activities for residents and appointing a mobile energy advisor in each municipality, initiating actions leading to the launch of biogas sources and establishing energy cooperatives in all municipalities within the next few years, which include at least buildings belonging to municipal institutions, as well as the development of standards for the energy efficiency of municipal and social property (introducing a minimum of energy efficiency).

“Local governments have an impact on heating. A lot of local governments have a direct impact on municipal utilities, which manage heating networks and have their own heat sources. At this point in the production of network heating in Poland, we still have about 80% of fossil fuels and this has to change. We have to aim for more and more renewable sources to feed these networks,” says Dr. Wojciech Szymalski. “The second area is public transport, which needs to be developed, run bus, tram or train lines more often, if we are talking about the provincial government. This is another thing that the local government can easily implement based on the current regulations. However, what the local government can do to a much lesser extent is investing in electricity production and its utilization in its own area. Here the government’s intervention is needed to enable such active actions of local governments.”

A large support for energy transformation in local governments in the upcoming term will be European funds. In the years 2021-2027, a record number of them is to reach Poland – 170 billion euros, of which a significant part, over 30% of the European Regional Development Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the National Recovery Plan, will be allocated to energy transformation and climate and environmental protection. As estimated by the Institute for Sustainable Development, in practice it will be over 20 billion euros. Importantly for local governments, most of these funds for ecological investments will probably be able to finance local budgets – it is estimated to be just over 15 billion euros, or 75% of the total amount allocated to the environment and climate. Given the number of local governments in Poland, each municipality – with equal distribution of funds – could receive as much as 6 million euros of European funds. The Institute, however, points out that the expenditure of this money will require from the beneficiaries not only efficient administration but also good legal solutions enabling investments aimed at energy transformation.

“At the moment, the biggest barrier for local governments in implementing investments for energy transformation or climate protection are misunderstandings between the government and local governments and the legal solutions that the government has adopted for local governments to realize certain directions of action”, evaluates the environmental protection expert. “There simply aren’t certain solutions or they are in a quite burdensome way detailed and create considerable difficulty in implementation for local governments.”

An exemplary area where municipalities have significant possibilities and use them is in fact heating – many of them have already invested in the exchange of their own network heating sources for geothermal, biomass or biogas and even in the field of dispersed heating, in individual houses, municipalities have found a way to support the exchange of heat sources for low emission in the form of Low Emission Reduction Programs. However, an area in which municipalities only have illusory possibilities is the management of electricity, as in practice they have to adjust their plans to the intentions of energy companies, mainly State Treasury companies, which manage energy networks in their area. The InE Foundation report shows that practically none of the many municipalities that have invested in their own renewable sources can use the generated electricity directly in their area. Bydgoszcz, which currently produces in its installations as much electricity as could supply the whole city, has been unsuccessfully for a long time seeking an appropriate legal solution to be able to use it for its own needs.

“In our report ‘Energy and Climate. Challenges for the new term of local governments in Poland’, we formulate several postulates that could accelerate and facilitate local governments towards energy transformation,” says Dr. Wojciech Szymalski. “One of them is a better coordination between the government and local government in terms of what each side expects. Here we need more dialogue, perhaps some additional tools to support this dialogue.”

The expert underlines that it is also necessary to allow residents to participate more than before in the activities of local governments aimed at energy transformation and climate protection. Another issue is strengthening the staff dealing with this area, for instance by appointing local energy and climate coordinators in each municipality.

“We have very good examples of local governments that went in this direction and it paid off. Today, these local governments could even showcase their solutions on a European scale. They started with one person working on this topic, for example Bydgoszcz,” says the president of the Institute for Sustainable Development.

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