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Slovakia can and should also REPower - an urgent transition from fossil fuel dependency and Russian resources is the only way to go
Slovakia can and should also REPower - an urgent transition from fossil fuel dependency and Russian resources is the only way to go
Dana Marekova
By Dana Marekova
Mar 15 2022 · 6 min read

Energy Voices
Oil & Gas · Renewables · Power & Utilities

Europe is getting ready to boost the European Green Deal, because it is essential to 'tackle our vulnerabilities' as Frans Timmermans put it. Slovakia is a good example of those vulnerabilities. It has a big gas problem on multiple-levels. It is now time to fix it.

First level is called dependency on a geo-political bully. My country is a next-door neighbour of heroically fighting Ukraine, to which we are expressing all sorts of support. Yet our gas dependency on Russia is 85%, crude oil dependency is 100% [1], nuclear fuel is 100% [2]. Slovakia has been boasting to be among the countries with the best gas connectivity in the EU. Well, this is proving to be quite a disadvantage and now, even some of our leaders are finally starting to realize that. It is clear that gas is a threat to Slovakia with negative climate, socio-economic and now obvious geo-political consequences.

Second level are regressive actions of key leaders of the Slovak transformation. The Ministry of Economy is presenting alternatives to our dependency: imports of LNG and nuclear fuel from countries others than Russia. While EU leaders are spelling energy efficiency and renewables, some of our government representatives do not seem to have these even on their radar! They continue pushing for our 'right to our own energy mix' in the taxonomy and against any binding targets for the only true alternatives in the climate package "Fit for 55". This narrative and approach has unfortunately always been there, but it is outright suicidal in the current situation – when prices of energy are sky-rocketting and sticking to our conventional sources of energy is literally dangerous.

Third level is rapidly spreading energy poverty. We are not talking about excluded communities and „traditionally“ vulnerable groups only. Covid pandemics, increasing energy prices and Ukrainian war with further increase of prices - all have impacts on many Slovak households, which are falling into the trap of poverty [3]. Instead of long term solutions, such as deep renovation of buildings, heat pumps, renewables, heating systems of 4th generation and other solutions, the Slovak government is still 'flirting' with gas as a solution.

This is actually a good example to explain how things sometimes (do not) work in my country: Despite the high gas connectivity of the Slovak households, there is still a big portion of areas and communities that are not connected and they are contributing to a long-standing air quality problem for which European Commission took us to the EU court (after 7 years of infringement did not bring sufficient improvement) [4]. Our government proposed incentives for gas boilers as a clean air measure. However, evidence shows that those are mostly socially and economically vulnerable households, which will not be able to afford gas as a fuel, thus will continue burning almost anything, including wet wood and garbage. So offering incentives to install gas boilers will not solve our air quality problem and is just digging the country deeper into dependence.

Slovak ministries could understand this better and design real measures if they coordinated amongst themselves. For example, the Ministry of Environment could talk to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and they both could talk to the Ministry of regional development, which bears the main responsibility for design and allocation of EU funds... [5]

And here comes the final level, or aspect, of our gas problem - Slovakia should do much better in using money for this massive transition of our society. Slovakia is a gross recipient of EU funds. Money from the Resilience and Recovery Facility, the Modernisation Fund and the largest portion of all, the Cohesion fund, can facilitate our transition. Indeed the country is not sufficiently ready. Our key climate strategies, Low emission strategy and National Energy and Climate Plan are outdated [6], not reflecting EU commitments and definitely too far from being on track to reach the future Fit for 55 targets. We do not have a clear trajectory towards neutrality. And we are lacking capacities in municipalities, regions and nationally. It is difficult to spend money well under these circumstances, indeed, but instead of building readiness, we are proposing and advocating for more money to buy more gas.

In the position to the Fit for 55 package, our government advocates for fossil gas projects to be funded from the Modernisation fund [7|. In its position on taxonomy [8], our government stands for „sustainably green“, albeit transitional…, gas and nuclear fuel, of course. Partnership agreement and Operation Program Slovakia  – essential documents for allocation of Cohesion funds – are (or were until very recently) proposing 29,9 mil EUR to be spent on the gas boilers [9] mentioned above.

Or is something changing? Our prime-minister, arriving at the REPower summit, said that he can imagine a total cut-off of Slovakia from Russian fossil resources [10]. The Ministry responsible for EU Funds just replied to climate organizations that gas boilers will not be supported by the Operational Programme and that they are “setting up a paradigm change“ in response to the Ukrainian conflict. They are announcing an „ambition to eliminate dependency on fossil fuels“.

So let us focus on solutions! Solutions for real energy resilience and decreasing the huge energy dependency of Slovakia are available. Money is also available. Not using this opportunity is suicidal for climate, for economy and for our safety. It is really time to fix this!

Slovakia should take action and get rid of legislative, administrative and technical barriers to renewable energy: new modernized grids with sufficient capacities and flexibility, increased limits to connect new installations, smooth digitized licensing process, data about potential for RES installations – all this and more is crucially needed. Otherwise we will not meet our targets (which should be even more ambitious, by the way!) - 700 megawatts of new photovoltaic installations and 500 megawatts of wind installations. Similarly there are useless barriers in boosting [11] deep renovation of buildings, despite the fact that this complex measure seems to have wide support and it has already proved its positive impact. In the years 2005 – 2020, measures in the sector of buildings achieved the highest decrease of fuels and heat consumption in Slovakia.

My country should also set up financial schemes to boost that renovation, dash into renewable energy at lightning speed (to use the words of Mr Timmermans again) and switch to a 4th generation heating system. We have unused left-overs from EU funds and ETS schemes and we are now setting up Resilience and Recovery as well as Operational Program.

Indeed, a crucial aspect of this all is people. On the one hand all these reforms and measures must be designed so that people living across the country will benefit. That means also focusing on and sensitivity to low income and vulnerable groups. On the other hand, if we are to succeed, significant attention must be paid to a systematic building of capacities for this transition on national, but even more so on regional and municipal levels.

There is power and potential, so let's REPower also Slovakia!

Energy Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

Footnotes

[1] Eurostat

[2] Russian plane with nuclear fuel landed in Slovakia

[3] Energy poverty is affecting more and more people, in Slovakia it is taboo

​[4] Air Quality: Commission decides to refer SLOVAKIA to the European Court of Justice over poor air quality

[5] Climate and environmental organizations have been challenging use of EU money for any gas projects, including for gas boilers. Few days ago we received information that gas boilers will not be supported from the Operation Program for allocation of EU Cohesion Fund

[6] The Slovak plan to achieve climate goals by 2030 is out of date (source in Slovak)

[7] It will be possible to finance gas projects from the Modernization Fund, JTF or ESI Funds (source in Slovak)

[8] Gas and nuclear energy will have to be part of decarbonization  (source in Slovak)

[9] https://www.oplyne.info/kotlikove-dotacie/ (source in Slovak)

[10] Slovakia could completely cut itself off from Russian energy carriers. Prices are already extremely high (source in Slovak)

[11] The development of renewables is hampered by technical barriers (source in Slovak)

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Dana Marekova
About the author

Dana Mareková is a lawyer and environmental campaigner, co-founder and coordinator of the Climate coalition Slovakia. Her experience covers clean air, green mobility, decarbonization of public finance and nuclear transparency. She connects EU and national levels, builds strategies with international organisations, such as Client Earth, Bankwatch, People in Need, and Slovak environmental groups.

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