Local communities are the key to a green future, and Austria can set an example
Experts from seven countries visited Austria to study the country's experience in green policies. The visit was part of the Excite project: the European Energy Award in Central and Eastern Europe, coordinated by the Bulgarian organisation EnEffect. Representatives from municipalities with pilot green projects from Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine and North Macedonia took part in the tour. On the Bulgarian side, three municipalities - Sofia, Gabrovo and Dobrich - attended, drawing on the good practices of their Austrian counterparts.
The main focus was on the activities implemented by the municipalities in Austria for the implementation of the European Energy Award, as well as climate-related actions at local level. Key is the work of the Austrian Energy Agency, which supports municipalities in making the most rational decisions on climate projects. There is also a unique programme, e5, through which almost all municipalities can receive federal funding for green ideas. But first the local community has to come together and say openly to the authorities what they are their needs and what will be best for the people. In fact, the e5 programme encourages Austrian municipalities to act in a sustainable way at all levels: in terms of energy, consumption, mobility and the economy, and is fully in line with the ideas of the European Green Deal.
What is e5?
The programme supports communities that want to contribute to sustainable energy policy and urban development through the rational use of energy and increased use of renewables. Through e5, various successful energy efficiency and climate protection policies are led at local level. It is a certification and quality management system for communities that allows them to improve energy efficiency and increase the use of renewable energy. Ultimately, Austrian e5 consists of a quality management system for utility energy services and activities, as well as certification and awards for energy-related achievements.
The "e" in e5 stands for energy. The higher the level of implementation of energy saving and climate protection measures in a municipality or city, the higher the number of "e"s awarded. There are a total of five grades in Austria and every community is welcome to participate. The programme has been running for 20 years and is financially supported by both local authorities and the federal government.
The awarding follows a standardised audit and certification process, resulting in an objective assessment valid for the work in the communities in Austria. The annual audit by e5 regularly demonstrates the municipality's achievements in terms of energy policy and climate protection. The more measures are implemented from the e5 measure set, the better the assessment. The municipality is assessed at least every four years.
The six areas that municipalities have to address in the e5 programme are: Development and spatial planning; Municipal buildings and facilities; Supply and disposal (energy, water, waste); Mobility; Internal organization; and Communication and cooperation (awareness raising, motivation).
The e5 programme is managed by the Austrian Energy Agency as part of the klimaaktiv initiative of the Austrian Ministry of the Environment in cooperation with seven Austrian provinces.
The programme today reaches municipalities and towns representing more than 20% of the Austrian population. The programme is part of the popular international European Energy Award (EEA) initiative, which is being implemented in the three pilot Bulgarian municipalities under the EXCITE project, but there are five categories. The last one - e5 - corresponds to the gold status of the EEA - or simply put: the local community is a brilliant example of green policies, a model for mobility behaviour, infrastructure and energy efficiency. Many municipalities in Austria are striving to reach this model, but this is done with a targeted and consistent policy.
What are municipalities doing?
In practice, the local community drives the programme and the initiatives. People discuss options on how to improve their environment, their homes and their communities. Based on the discussions, 1-2 projects are submitted for funding by the municipality and central government. This involves a variety of reasonable ideas - a new park, charging stations for electric cars, transport connectivity, water infrastructure, LED lamp replacement and, of course, the use of renewable energy. The examples are many and each year the best projects are awarded in the small but very interesting town of Baden. It is 20-minutes train ride from Vienna, but electric mobility started there a century ago. Even at the beginning of the 20th century, there was an operating tram lineactive tramway in the town that could take you to the Opera House in the centre of Vienna.
Projects are funded by the local community and the regional bank. Instead of keeping their money on deposit, people can invest in a green future at a fixed return of 10% and get their money back after ten years. This way, both the region benefits and the local residents put more effort because they know they are doing it for themselves and the next generation. Furthermore, the money is not lost by the high inflation that has also hit Austria.
The municipality also gives advice to households who want to introduce energy efficiency measures in their homes. The measures can be combined - for example, the family can get financing from the bank for a heat pump and the municipality can allocate funds for installing a solar system. At a certain point, it appears that the household has a relatively symbolic loan to repay, and can also benefit from ESCO services locally. In parallel, the state supports all kinds of measures related to the green transition.
Read more: dir.bg