Local energy issues are european energy issues

1. In the last 12 years the official poverty rates have ranged from 36 to 28% proving that 1/3 of the population has suffered from risk of poverty or social exclusion. Energy poverty has yet to be studied in detail but we are sure that the problem was very serious the last years and will become alarming in 2022 that electricity bills have become extremely high in Greece - more expensive than any other EU country.

We have noticed that the poorest groups of the population have tried to replace the heating of their house with any fuel that is cheaper even if that is unsuitable, polluting or unsafe. This has resulted in a big number of accidents and a very high number of victims of domestic fires, due to faulty heating appliances, fumes, and so on. In 2020, 68 people died from a fire in their homes and, in 2021, there were 83 deaths for the same reason, more than in December. This is a new phenomenon in Greece.

2. Until recently, most of the electricity was generated from gas and polluting lignite, which exists in the center of the Peloponnese (city of Megalopolis) and mainly in Western (Greek) Macedonia (cities of Kozani, Ptolemaida, Florina). In these areas the local economy for the last 70 years has relied almost exclusively on lignite mining and the operation of large electric power plants. The Region of West Macedonia is considered to be one of the poorest areas of Greece and the unemployment rate is around 30%: this Region comes 9th among all European Regions concerning total unemployment. In the last years the situation has become worse because of the firing of 5,500 workers in the mining sector and power plants. 4 plants have closed down; some exist as a reserve and the rest 3 will close down, in theory, in 2023.

3. The Greek Government has announced an overly ambitious and short-term plan to switch to cleaner forms of electricity generation and has announced the closure of all lignite power plants. The prime minister has declared the complete abolition of lignite use till 2025 with a possible extension for only one plant till 2028. This has created intense insecurity in these two areas of Greece, with high unemployment, low income and high poverty rate.

4. The recent situation with the war in Ukraine and the scarcity of natural gas resources led the Greek Government to a new policy inconsistent and in contradiction to the abolition of the use of lignite. Now the lignite mines produce double quantity and store it for the upcoming period because at least 4 plants will continue to operate to avoid black outs and to replace the very expensive gas for the next 2 years.

5. The situation in the referred two electric energy centers of Greece has not changed. The local working manpower is limited to cover emergency needs in the mines and the plants and the big plans for new investments need time. There are ambitious plans to promote alternative facilities for clean energy, to install high technology companies and so on but all the ideas and proposals need a decade to be put into practice.

There does not exist a “step by step” approach to transform the local economy and promote another model of development. All proposals have been described as part of a central plan to capitalize European funds without the active participation of the local communities, the local trade unions or the municipalities in trouble.

There are also all the issues about how the local economy is being redesigned in transition and how the working population will be retrained to acquire new professional skills and respond to new energy production conditions and the production of environmentally friendly products and services. We cannot have changes in the local economy without the people and in the absence of the local community.

To make a comparison with the transition plans in Germany, the deadline to end with carbon is 2038 offering more than 15 years to develop new professions, promote vocational training and advocate for high salaries for the workers. It is interesting that the German trade unions focus on the 25,000 workers of the carbon industry and the 100,000 workers in energy having in mind not only to retain their working positions but to guarantee appropriate and high salaries.

6. As nobody obliges Greece to close down all lignite powered stations, a 10-year transition period is necessary to uneventfully develop clean energy sources. Greece is producing only 40% of its electricity from renewable energy sources while the average in EU 27 is 60%. Greece can successfully reach 80% provided that it respects environmental rules and restrictions and that it takes into account both the human factor and the social impact of any decision.

We do not agree to increase further the "green" taxes for the production of carbon dioxide, without parallel support to the vulnerable social groups.

The transition to cleaner forms of energy production should not lead to greater poverty for the already poor and greater energy poverty for those who can no longer even heat their homes or pay the electricity bills.

by Spyros Psychas, Board member of EAPN Greece

(photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash)

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