Green recovery meets energy efficiency
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s ambitious recovery and resilience plan are doable, unlike many ideas, strategies and declarations churned out from Brussels in the past.
The difference this time is that von der Leyen already had set a clear goal before even getting into office with her ‘Green Deal’.
She rightly wanted to make the Union and the entire continent cleaner by 2050, on-land, in the air and at sea.
From the day she moved into the Berlaymont, she rolled up her sleeves and started work.
At the same time, the coronavirus spread rapidly, exploding into a pandemic, and the EC President had to deal with a new catastrophe.
But only a visionary could see that far ahead and conclude that ‘out of every crisis, there is an opportunity’.
In this case, to combine the two pillars of greening the economy and financing a quick, sustainable recovery.
By August of 2020, a wise team was put together as the Recovery and Resilience Task Force (RECOVER), headed by an experienced and competent Eurocrat.
And by February 19, the €675 bln Recovery and Resilience Facility entered into force, injecting much-needed cash into the Covid-stricken economies.
This is conditional the money is spent on fast-acting rescue programmes, infrastructure projects that have longer-term benefits and climate considerations, as well as urgent reforms.
On July 8, the EC President visited the island and announced the approval of the €1 bln in grants and €200 mln in loans for the Cyprus Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP), which aims to secure a green transition, to support a digital transition and to reinforce economic and social resilience.
Of the total amount, about 41% has been allocated to four energy pillars as reforms and investments that support climate objectives.
The first is introducing green taxation, which includes a carbon tax for fuels, a levy on water and a charge on landfill waste.
The second will finance energy efficiency measures, renewable energy investments and combat energy poverty; the third is the energy interconnector linking Cyprus to the EU electricity network and boost renewable energy production.
The last pillar is for sustainable and green mobility, encouraging a shift from private cars to public transport, cycling, walking, and promoting clean vehicles.
The latter has a long way to go as the subsidies for hybrid, and electric vehicle purchases (and subsequent reduction of emissions) are something that the government and politicians have yet to fully understand and embrace.
We still have a situation where cabinet members roam around the island with gas-guzzling limos while their northern European colleagues take the train home or bicycle.
Interestingly, one conclusion from the Electricity Authority annual report released on Thursday is that the state-owned utility still pays a lot to buy carbon credits through the emissions trading scheme, almost one in ten euros of its expenditure.
Energy Minister Natasa Pilides said natural gas supplies for power generation will be available from next year, the same time as the full liberalisation of the electricity market, and will reduce overheads at the EAC.
However, Cyprus will get its biggest boost from the EuroAsia Interconnector, the electricity cable linking the national grid to Crete, then Greece and onwards to the entire European power network.
The EuroAsia is by far the biggest infrastructure project in the Cyprus RRP, allocated €100 mln in imminent grants that will at last lift the energy isolation of the island, the last non-interconnected EU member state.
For some, it is difficult to comprehend the importance of terminating this energy isolation, as most Europeans do not think twice about where their electricity comes from, as long as it’s affordable.
Cyprus is unique due to its distance from the rest of the Union, while unfriendly neighbours breathe down our necks, trying to grab as much from the island and its resources as possible.
Fortunately, the native renewables producers are increasing, and as more reach the market, competition should (in theory) drive prices down to benefit consumers.
To do this, you need to have a system interconnected to the European grids from where to buy or sell electricity.
By investing in reviving the Cyprus economy, which has steered off its sustainable path and needs to return to some sense of normalcy, von der Leyen’s Green Deal will be achievable and felt by every household (and their pockets) in Cyprus.
Such initiatives are necessary to revive faith in the European Dream and EU institutions.
Cypriots may have been avid supporters in the past but recently lost trust due to a lack of political solidarity.