Meeting in Belgrade yesterday (24 October), the energy ministers of the Energy Community, an organisation of countries seeking closer EU integration or membership, adopted a list of 35 energy projects of regional importance, mirroring a recent EU effort which identified 248 projects of common importance for the Union. EurActiv Serbia contributed to this article.
Member countries of the Energy Community had initially intended to table their projects before the European Union published its list. But the European Commission was faster, said Janez Kopač, the head of the Energy Community's secretariat.
The energy projects on the EU executive's list, published on 14 October, may qualify for €5,85 billion of funding.
Speaking at the conference 'Energy Arena 2013', held in Belgrade, Kopač, a Slovenian national, said countries in his organisation had applied for 100 projects and that 35 were nominated for adoption.
The members of the Energy Community (see background) are Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, Moldova and Ukraine.
Most of the 35 projects selected concern more than one country, and relate to electricity generation, and electricity, gas and oil infrastructure. Some of the projects also concern neighbouring EU member countries, such as Greece, Romania and Italy.
The Energy Community official recognised that this was not the first time that “common solutions” were identified for the region’s energy needs, and that “sometimes nothing happened”.
He said that $39 billion was needed for the development of this sector in the period 2012 to 2020. He said the projects would be financed from domestic and private investments, preferably foreign, and added that it would also be possible to use EU funds.
Kopač also said that priority projects should be “streamlined”, by receiving fast building permits, and get better terms from national authorities with respect to regulations and tariffs.
€60 billion needed for Balkan region
The director of the Serbian Oil Industry (NIS), Kirill Kravchenko, said at the same event that up to €60 billion in investments was needed in the Balkan region's energy sector up to 2030.
Kravchenko, a Russian, said that if the Balkan region was compared with central Europe, energy efficiency and economic capacities would have to double in the next ten years. NIS is owned at 56% by Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom.
Speaking at the conference, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić said his country should reconsider its borrowing plans in the field of energy and finance only projects that are of national relevance. Among them he included regional projects, such as a gas interconnection with Bulgaria, oil pipeline towards Romania and hydroelectric power plants that will be built in cooperation with neighbouring countries.
For Serbia it is important to have a stable energy market, to produce sufficient energy, to have acceptable prices and that there is energy connection between countries in the region.
Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Daniela Bobeva advised the countries in South Eastern Europe “not to repeat the mistakes of Bulgaria”.
She said that energy prices should remain affordable, adding that the February protests in Bulgaria after unusually high electricity bills had led to the collapse of the previous government, of Boyko Borissov.
The introduction of “green energy” in Bulgaria had put a huge cost burden on citizens, she said, underlining that the country's energy sector was still far from transparent.
In response, Fabrizio Barbazo, deputy director general of the Commission's energy directorate, advised leaders of the region to “give full attention to consumers and ordinary people”. He said the region needed investments, but also rules to be adopted and applied. For the investments to come, this implied a stable legal framework, good governance and a level playing field, Barbaso said.
The Commission representative also stressed the need to give higher priority to energy efficiency in the region.
Jerzy Buzek to lead Energy Community’s group of experts
The Energy Community ministers appointed Jerzy Buzek, the Polish centre-right MEP who was the President of the European Parliament between 2009 and 2011, as chair of a High Level Reflection Group.
Buzek, who is well known as a promoter of greater coherence in the EU’s energy policies, was tasked with preparing by mid-2014 a development and reform strategy of the Energy Community for next ten years.
Several NGOs sent EurActiv critical feedback to the Energy Community decision. “We are deeply concerned about several hydropower projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia that have received the backing of the Energy Community. These projects will have significant environmental and social impacts and do not meet basic EU standards. WWF will therefore appeal to the competent European institutions to review the list and eliminate the projects that fail to comply with EU legal requirements,” said Angela Klauschen from WWF Mediterranean.
“It is highly disappointing that an EU-backed body has prioritised projects that directly conflict with EU goals, including three lignite power plants – Kolubara B and Nikola Tesla B3 in Serbia and Kosova e Re in Kosovo  – which clash with the EU's long-term climate goals and harm local people's health”, added Pippa Gallop from CEE Bankwatch Network.
Garret Tankosić Kelly from SEE Change Net said:“EU Commissioner Oettinger backs projects which divert the clean energy out of Balkans to feed EU markets while leaving our citizens breathing more dirty coal. We sincerely hope that this is not the birth of a new EU energy strategy, which takes advantage of local resources of candidate countries for fulfilling its own renewable energy goals.”