For municipalities and citizens, energy efficiency is a matter of survival and a way for development

Bulgarian municipalities urgently need technical and financial support to implement pending projects 

The discussion forum "Mayors Speak", held on 7-8 July in Gabrovo, brought together more than 80 representatives of local authorities, financial institutions and energy experts. The event, organised by the Municipality of Gabrovo, EnEffect and the Municipal Energy Efficiency Network EcoEnergy, made a strong call, in the form of a declaration, for urgent action by the Government and Parliament to implement the necessary reforms to realise ambitious sustainable energy policies.

In the first session, led by journalist Dobrina Cheshmedjieva, Gabrovo Mayor Tanya Hristova appealed for a systematic approach to efficient use of public resources, stressing that this includes parting with unsustainable practices such as grant funding. Ms. Hristova added that municipalities are ready to cooperate with the state and the business, but this requires direct technical and communication support.

Applying innovative approaches and promoting work with citizens and investors was also a focus of the event. The experience of municipalities is a national asset and should be used in future energy efficiency programmes, said Donka Mihailova, Mayor of Troyan, who added that financial decentralisation has a huge potential to support local efforts. Other participants, including the deputy mayors of Burgas and Ruse municipalities, along with representatives of the National Association of Municipalities, the National Trust Ecological Fund, the FLAG Fund and the Regional Fund for Urban Development, agreed on this thesis.

"We have long understood that data collection, processing and analysis are the keys to successful project planning and implementation. That is why we have done a taxonomy analysis, entered into a key partnership with the EIB and Three Seas, and are embarking on a project to create a data hub that will serve not only the municipality, but also businesses and all stakeholders." This is also the basis of our successful bid for the European Commission's mission "100 Climate Neutral and Smart Cities", in which together with Gabrovo we will represent Bulgaria. And successful data collection and processing is key if we want to implement the energy transition in a successful way. The energy autonomy of each municipality is what we must necessarily focus on."

"Energy efficiency is unequivocally the highest priority of the European authorities, and it is in the hands of local authorities that all policies are implemented," said Radan Kanev, MEP, EP rapporteur on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. He commented that the resources to implement European policies are available, but they need to be acted upon decisively and quickly to make use of them. Responding to this call, Mayor of Smiadovo Ivanka Petrova said, "We have renovated half of our multi-family buildings under the previous renovation programme, and if the next one opens tomorrow, we are ready with the other half. We have provided the citizens with technical passports and surveys so that we are among the first. We have also replaced the street lights ourselves - with one worker and one technician. No one has come to ask us how we are doing, but the answer is one - we are with the citizens every day and helping them."

Getting enough support to achieve their goals, improved communication and awareness raising were also issues discussed with representatives of the leadership of leading European organisations - the Covenant of Mayors, the Committee of the Regions, the European Climate Foundation.

The last session of the event paid special attention to building renovation, with citizens' attitudes towards participation in the renovation programme illustrated by the results of a nationally representative survey conducted by CSD and EnEffect. 

The meeting concluded with a discussion of successful practices and tools available to support local authorities, and the new EcoEnergy competition was announced, in which the successful practices of the Network's member municipalities will compete for a prize fund of BGN 10,000.

The discussion meeting was followed by workshops for construction professionals and citizens. All participants had the opportunity to visit a specialized product exhibition, as well as to see the traditional summer training Academy "The Leaders", in which students of construction and architecture demonstrate their skills alongside representatives of the largest Bulgarian construction companies.

"The interest we see here shows a belief that there is no time to waste and that we need to act quickly and with quality to achieve our high ambitions. It is clear that change starts at the local level, and energy efficiency is a matter of survival for both municipalities and citizens, and they understand it perfectly," said Dragomir Tsanev, Executive Director of EnEffect, in his conclusion.