In recent weeks a promising response has emerged to one of the top demands from Czech NGOs engaged in the current programming process for future EU spending in the country. In April, the first draft of the Operational Programme Environment was disclosed for public consultations – it contains a new priority spending axis named ‘Energy savings’, included now in addition to those that had been previously announced by the Czech authorities.
This is a welcome move from the Czech Ministry of Environment, recognising the still drastically high levels of wasted energy use that pervades the Czech economy and society in general. According to Eurostat, the Czech Republic continues to require twice the amount of energy per unit of economic outcomes than the EU average.
This introduction of a separate priority axis, though, is just a first step towards fully realising the economic and climate potential of reducing our energy consumption.
Under the new priority axis, EU public financial support will be available for the thermal insulation of public and residential buildings, small renewable sources of heat and innovative technologies such as heat recuperation. A necessary precondition, however, to fully realise the high potential for heat savings in buildings remains – adequate levels of funding.
Greening EU funds to exit the crisis
The Centre for Transport and Energy and Hnuti Duha-Friends of the Earth, Czech member groups of Bankwatch, are proposing an allocation of CZK 10 billion (EUR 400 million) a year for this purpose.
Our estimation of absorption capacity is in line with energy consultancy Porsenna’s estimation of CZK 500 billion being required to achieve economic efficiency potential in residential buildings by 2030 – the 25 percent public financing rate involved works out at CZK 7.81 billion (EUR 312 million) a year.
The Ministry of Environment has also weighed in with its calculations – a recent presentation given by vice-minister Tomas Podivinsky estimates the necessary public finance for energy renovations of residential buildings alone at CZK 250 billion over the next 30-40 years. That is, roughly CZK 8 billion (EUR 320 million) a year via public money sources.
The scale of the necessary investment level for energy efficiency in the next seven year period should be seen in the context of the overall Czech allocations, expected to total CZK 500 billion.
If the necessary ambition on energy efficiency is to be allowed to breathe, then around 15 percent of the total Czech EU pot needs to be devoted to this sector. A significant figure, then, but not a major leap into the dark when you consider energy efficiency’s deep cross-cutting benefits: reduced bills for homes and business, a lot of new jobs and big cuts in emission levels. And the ambition, crucially, must be to include both public and residential buildings full square in the priority spending axis – unfortunately there are signs that the Czech plans as currently conceived will not give enough priority to residential energy efficiency.
Another necessary element for proper energy renovations is the appropriate establishment of strict efficiency criteria which will ensure that funds are invested in line with the EU objectives – energy savings – and not just into plain refurbishment with low efficiency ambition.
Insufficient parameters for thermal insulation in EU funded projects was specifically criticised by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) at the beginning of the year. According to the ECA’s findings, member states used finance reserved for energy efficiency measures to simply upgrade their real-estate: “A more important consideration than energy efficiency was the need to refurbish public buildings.”, the ECA report conludes.
Funding in the new programming period must be set in a way so as to compel beneficiaries to achieve efficiency parameters more ambitious than current legal requirements. We believe that beneficiaries who opt for higher efficiency rates and install renewable sources should receive a motivational premium.
Practical examples of what can be achieved are out there.
Energy renovations carried out on pre-fab estates in Brno-Liskovec, for example, have shown that it is possible to achieve annual heat consumption as low as 40 kWh/m2 with only thermal insulation in typical communist-era ‘panel’ blocks – this is a much lower rate than required by the low-energy standard (50 kWh/m2).
Equally, the EU funded energy renovation of a school in Prague-Slivenec achieved 89 percent energy savings, with final annual heat consumption of 21 kWh/m2. Technologies typical for passive buildings, such as forced ventilation with heat recuperation, used in this renovation dramatically improved air quality in the classrooms. School children in Slivenec now appreciate the benefits of EU funding for energy efficiency, as this video clip illustrates.
Other than the successful NGO demand for a separate priority axis for energy efficiency, the Ministry of Environment has also accepted several of our other key demands. Departing from original plans, future EU funds in the Czech Republic will not now finance the production of bio-fuels. And in another improvement, EU support for water sewage treatment will be eligible in small communities, not only in those with over 500 inhabitants as previously planned.
All the same, the Czech programming process contains a number of problematic aspects that remain on our radar. Not least of which is the proposal to keep EU financing open to waste incinerators.
EU funding for these highly controversial waste ‘solutions’ has been perhaps the greatest single fiasco in the Czech Republic’s current 2007-2013 financing period. Not a single crown out of their huge allocation for 2007-2013 has been spent as a result of various controversies and local community/NGO campaigning.
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