Democratization of energy on the rise in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina
By: Nadežda Kokotović, Director of the Brussels Energy Club
The number of local energy communities is increasing in Croatia as well as the number of citizens directly and actively involved in sustainable energy projects – increasingly supported by the state within the legal framework and current practice of the EU . Meanwhile, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, residents of both entities and all cantons are fighting for the protection of rivers and against the state destruction strategy to promote investments in small hydropower plants – which appear to be obsolete. in this country rich in RES.
At this year’s Fifth International Energy Forum in Split, one of the panels was dedicated to energy democracy, a new concept that links energy transition to democracy and citizen participation. As moderator of the panel, I spoke with government officials and activists from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
For proponents of energy democracy, climate change is not only the greatest threat to our planet, but also an opportunity to initiate changes in our economies, changes that “would dramatically improve lives, bridge the gap between rich and poor alike, would create a lot of good jobs and reinvigorate democracy from scratch ”(Naomi Klein).
Energy democracy is about clean energy, energy efficiency and nature conservation, attracting new market players, such as prosumers, small local communal power plants instead of large energy companies, and concerned citizen movements. sustainable development of their local communities. The European Green Deal responds to a certain extent to these social demands when it speaks of the fight against energy poverty, of just transition and, in general, of a holistic approach to a sustainable future where social dialogue plays a big role. .
Križevci’s ambitious green plan
Mario rajn is a mayor of Križevci, a town of 30,000 inhabitants near Zagreb, and the first to adopt a development plan with an ambitious goal of achieving energy independence until 2030. Križevci has hosted a first small power plant municipal solar power of 30kwh, funded by a citizens’ group, a so-called “energy cooperative” in Croatia (since 2019 they have legal status in the EU).
Citizens invested in this community factory in the form of a 10-year loan with an expected interest rate of 4.5%. The city’s Development Center is a user of the electricity produced while the electricity utility buys the surplus.
The City co-finances the installation of solar panels on the roofs of family houses
The City is also co-financing the installation of solar panels on the roofs of family houses and plans to connect the city center to surrounding villages by green hydrogen buses, to use geothermal sources to heat public institutions and to improve its solid waste management practices. These plans enabled Mario Rajn to obtain his second term as mayor and he also became a member of the board of directors of Energy Cities, the European association of cities in energy transition, alongside the mayors of Modena, Delft, Valence, Liège and Louvain.
It could also be noted that Rajn is a third mayor in Croatia who came to power as an independent candidate with the agenda focused on sustainable development and life: Split has high expectations from its new mayor (or poteštat, as they call familiarly that position there), Ivica Puljak, who obtained her doctorate in physics at the Sorbonne. His new peer from Zagreb, Tomislav Tomašević earned his master’s degree in sustainable development, in addition to being an environmental activist for most of his adult life.
Pioneers of energy cooperatives
Zoran Kordić is co-founder and CEO of Zelena energetska zadruga (ZEZ, Green Energy Cooperative), which developed this first project in Križevci. ZEZ had presented this idea to many, but at first they were only greeted by Mario Rajn.
ZEZ also offers training on how to create an energy cooperative and today many have taken this path. The founders and participants of energy cooperatives have more in common than just an economic interest: they are all motivated by the sustainable development of their towns, villages and islands. In addition to energy production, they are grouped around projects focused on the sustainable management of water, energy and waste in tourist camps and energy efficiency in agriculture.
Until a few years ago, when Croatia fully adapted its legislation to that of the EU, ZEZ and other communities only survived, but since then the situation has improved and now the state treats Zoran and his colleagues as equal partners. ZEZ is also a member of ResCoop, the European federation of citizen energy cooperatives, a key promoter of this concept in Europe which brings together some 1900 cooperatives with 1.25 million active citizens.
Small hydropower plants as a factor of coherence in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Podic Donkeys from the Bosnian environmental NGO “Eko akcija” spoke about their fight against small hydroelectric power stations (SHPP) and the catastrophic impact they have on the rivers of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In this country, 108 SHPPs have been built to date – producing only 2.2% of total electricity (for comparison, one wind farm has produced the same amount as 57 SHPPs). In 2019, BiH generated 40% of its electricity from RES, mainly large hydropower plants, while in global greenhouse gas emissions its share is only 0.075%.
The state still plans to build a few hundred of these projects
Due to state aid and advantageous prices, the state still plans to build a few hundred of these projects, while completely neglecting other renewable energy sources, widely available in this country. Despite the existing legal framework which stipulates the maintenance of a so-called biological minimum, hydropower plants drain the last drops of water from rivers, destroying flora and fauna, the economies of local communities, and tens of kilometers of roads are built through intact woods.
Protests took place across the country, with protesters ignoring division and internal issues, maintaining day and night shifts and bravely confronting investor bulldogs. Grassroots organizations are crowdfunding legal battles, and their activists are heavily featured in the media, advocating for an urgent and permanent ban on the construction of SHPP. Their position is that hydropower plants should be excluded from state aid programs, and that instead, energy transition financing programs should be established taking into account the needs and limitations of society and of Bosnian nature.
The efforts of environmental activities are bearing fruit and every day there is news from another municipality which has banned the construction of SHPP on its territory.
In addition, the EU Water Framework Directive and the EU Birds and Habitats Directive have never been transposed into national laws and neither are they part of the EU Treaty. Energy community. Their full application would mitigate the effect of these projects. The efforts of environmental activities are bearing fruit and every day there is news of another municipality which has banned the construction of SHPP on its territory. Yet the horrific effects of current projects cannot be reversed.
Although the panelists from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have different challenges and opportunities, what brings them together is their common desire to manage their natural resources on their own, in a clean and responsible way, but also their obstacles. common that mainly slow them down: apathy and ignorance in their society.