This week’s international conference GREEN WEEK will bring together for the third consecutive year politicians, ministers, commissioners, representatives of the European Parliament, as well as business, NGOs and others to discuss the current challenges on the green transition to a low-carbon economy – in all the diversity of the topic. The impressive number of participants from a number of Central and Eastern European countries, as well as their level, is another confirmation of the importance of the discussions.
And if the leading issues such as energy security, energy connectivity, new technologies, etc. are in fact well known, the look at them this time is in the conditions of completely new realities and challenges that have arisen in recent months. These are the energy crisis that has just subsided; geopolitical changes that have largely freed Europe from dependence on Russian gas; the unprecedented penetration of renewable energy sources; the technology boom, etc. In short, in the space of a year or so, the world as a whole and Europe in particular have taken unexpected steps of a magnitude beyond the canon we have known until recently, which, particularly at national level, require a complete rethink of the medium- and short-term vision of energy policy and economic development in its entirety. Especially sensitive topics such as energy poverty, investments, circular economy, food security, digitalization, etc. complement the highlights of the event.
And what exactly are we doing in our country?
The above-mentioned trends and themes do not bypass Bulgaria – and in this context the principle question is whether the institutions have a clear vision of where we are going and whether they take into account that the green transition is not flying over our country, but has objectively been here for a long time. From such a point of view, the forum will certainly play a particularly important role to hear both the opinions and the expectations of those who actually make the reforms – and they have long been in the hands of business and academia, and often happen despite the efforts of politicians.
Such conferences take months to prepare – and so this one coincidentally coincides with the arrival of the new regular government and another edition of the Bulgarian parliament. The question is whether these institutions are ready to listen and make appropriate power decisions according to their powers. And in fact, things can be summed up in one sentence to the authorities that I heard recently – “don’t hinder us, help us”! And this is a valid message whether it is about the transformation of coal capacity, the development of renewable energy technologies or the legal and regulatory framework in its entirety.
Once again, there are probably more questions than answers. And our politicians continue to give radically opposite signals on basic topics related to the Bulgarian energy sector, which are directly related to the green transition. Here’s a few examples.
For some, coal will lead the way for electricity generation until at least 2038 – never mind that after the energy emergency of 2022, there has been a huge decline in coal-fired power stations since early 2023 due to crushing competition from renewables, a trend that will inevitably continue. In parallel, while in some regions the NGO sector is winning projects to build hydrogen valleys, in these same regions there is active resistance to maintain the coal status quo – and often with foolish political talk for the sake of one vote or another in elections, but without economic arguments.
For others, the construction of the NPP “BELENE” should start immediately, as they consider it a guarantee for the politicians’ favourite gum called “energy independence”. However, none of these supporters of the project mention that it has long been overgrown with factual, legal and regulatory problems and that there is a lack of clarity about its cost. Apparently, the fact that it is not at all clear when the construction activities could start, and that after this start, it will take at least ten years before any regular operation of the plant can be started, remains an apparently negligible detail.
The legislation related to the connection of new renewable capacities is supposedly moving forward, but the questions and answers related to supporting the development of electricity networks are not at all unambiguous.
Who knows why the topic of fuels continues to be treated abstractly on its own outside of the general energy context – in which however the topic of electric cars is touched upon e.g. etc. etc.
About the institutions and their tasks
The conference program envisages discussions on a number of conceptual issues related to the powers of both the government and the National Assembly, which will certainly touch on painful issues related to the green transition, such as:
- What’s going on with the territorial just transition plans for coal regions;
- What is the timeline on the Recovery and Sustainability Plan, which energy projects are a priority and at what timeframe;
- Is the revision of the Integrated Energy and Climate Plan due at the end of June this year;
- Is there sufficient support for research and training, etc.?
Against this background, the regular government formed literally days ago already has a flying start, while it will inevitably rely on the work of those before it. The 49th National Assembly, which has been functioning for about two months, seems to be finally beginning to shyly focus on some more substantial work – and this after entertaining us until recently with attempts to form committees without chairmen, as well as with some supposed parliamentary control to fill of time.
And in view of their competences, both institutions face a particularly important topic – the lack of an up-to-date energy strategy. And during the conference, this particular issue will be specifically discussed with the aim of helping them to finally be accepted.
The composition of the EWRC is to be updated, where the Parliament is again a debtor, including for the stabilisation of the institution – the Commission will undoubtedly play a huge role for the successful implementation of the steps on the green transition.
It is clear that such a forum as the international conference “GREEN TRANSITION 2023” cannot replace the work of institutions at national level – but it can undoubtedly stimulate it with ideas and specific proposals on the green transition in all its diversity, which goes far beyond the energy sector.
At the starting point, however, the reality remains that this transition is not only inevitable – it creates specific opportunities for national, regional and European security on the basis of a modernization of views and, respectively, a modernization of the economy in its entirety, and with a strong social orientation. And this should not only be clearly stated by those in power, but also translated into concrete systematic actions on the above-mentioned problems, which we all expect in the near future – unfortunately, due to political disagreements and lack of political vision, the national lag is a reality in many areas.
*The author Slavcho Neykov expresses his personal opinion. He has more than 29 years of continuous experience in the energy sector and will be a guest of the conference GREEN WEEK. From 20 to 22 June over 130 panelists from 10 countries will participate in the forum, organized by Dir.bg and 3E-News for the third consecutive year.