100 municipalities support the acceleration of energy efficiency programmes

The National Conference on Sustainable Financing for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Projects focused on the risk to the implementation of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan

The sixth edition of the National roundtable for sustainable financing of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, organized by the Energy Efficiency Center EnEffect, the Municipal Energy Efficiency Network EcoEnergy and the Municipality of Gabrovo, took place on 26-27 September in a hybrid format. The two-day event was attended by representatives of state and municipal authorities, financial institutions, as well as experts and representatives of the NGO sector. Held on the eve of the parliamentary elections and in the context of the ongoing energy crisis, the conference offered a space to coordinate the actions of national and local authorities to push forwards the real implementation of energy efficiency projects to the benefit of local businesses and citizens. The second day of the event offered examples of smart energy efficiency financing in Greece and the Czech Republic. 

"Energy efficiency today should be at the top of the political and public agenda," said Dragomir Tzanev, Executive Director of EnEffect. "The delays and uncertainty surrounding the expected reforms on which the financing of sustainable energy projects depend are jeopardizing the implementation of the NRRP and hindering the accelerated implementation of local sustainable energy projects with the potential to limit the negative effects of the crisis," he added.

The Forum reported that nearly 100 municipalities have already signed EcoEnergy’s Declaration in support of accelerated practical implementation of energy efficiency policies. Proposals in the declaration include the preparation of legislative changes and planning documents that will help to release financial resources under the NRRP and the European Structural and Investment Funds; the preparation of the application rules before the release of funding; the provision of financial mechanisms through which municipalities and local businesses can access credit on preferential terms; technical assistance for administration, professional management and project control; mainstream communication campaign; achieving real results in the financial decentralization reform for municipalities to implement their own sustainable energy policies. 

The question is whether we are successfully utilizing the funding from Europe, participants commented, pointing to the fact that projects follow the rhythm of "start" and "stop", which makes sustainable funding difficult. This in turn is particularly important for building and maintaining specialist teams for energy optimization of the building stock.

"Reforms in the sector require regulatory changes, i.e. a functioning National Assembly," said Ivaylo Alexiev, Executive Director of the Agency for Sustainable Energy Development. "Municipal energy efficiency projects need to have maybe not 100%, but still a higher level of grant funding to avoid straining already thin municipal budgets. On the other hand, in the case of households, there should be a move to reduce the share of grants and increase their own participation," he added. 

A keynote speech on the first day of the forum was delivered by Magdalena Dimitrova, State Expert in the Programming Department of the Directorate General "Operational Programme Environment" at the Ministry of Environment and Water. She outlined the investment priorities and timeframes for the implementation of the environmental programme in the main areas of water, waste, biodiversity, risk and climate change and air, and pointed out their relationship to energy efficiency projects for the building stock. In her presentation, she also identified the key reforms in the sector: establishing a National Decarbonization Fund; facilitating and increasing investment in energy efficiency in multi-family buildings; developing a definition and criteria for household energy poverty; establishing mechanisms for financing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects; and a one-stop shop.

On the topic of local authorities' expectations and investment needs, Tanya Hristova, Mayor of Gabrovo Municipality and Chair of OMEE EcoEnergy, said: "The time has come to look for more complex solutions to achieve our goals. In this way, different initiatives can complement each other to bring about the green changes that are expected of us. The main objective is now to improve the microclimate in the building as well as to have building management for the most efficient use of public resources." She called for more experimentation and "piloting" to create and implement models for different types of municipalities.

During the parallel discussions at the conference, the topics of financial institutions as key enablers for the implementation of national support programmes, the role of municipal energy management systems and standards for attracting market-based financing, and the challenges for national and local authorities to enable effective implementation of sustainable energy projects were discussed. On the second day of the forum, Jiří Karasek, Research Director at the renowned energy think tank SEVEn in Prague, presented his experience in the practical application of ESCO schemes in public buildings. The legal framework and financing of energy communities in Greece was the topic of the report by Alice Korovesi, Executive Director of INZEB (Athens).

At the closing of the conference Dragomir Tzanev pointed out, "We can now say that the reform related to the National Decarbonization Fund is on a more stable footing. Especially for the private (residential) sector, it is the most important instrument for accelerating energy efficiency. "In turn, Marko Markov, Senior Financial Expert on Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at Econoler, commented “The market is moving in the right direction without state intervention."