You have 3 free articles left this month. Get your free Basic subscription now and gain instant access to more.

INTERVIEW - Giving up on W. Balkans green agenda not an option

INTERVIEW - Giving up on W. Balkans green agenda not an option Petar Mitrović, Karanovic & Partners

November 25 (SeeNews) - Countries in the Western Balkans have to deal with various challenges in the energy field but giving up on the green agenda is not an option, Petar Mitrovic, Partner at Karanovic & Partners, told SeeNews in a recent interview.

"In the long run, there is no dilemma – giving up on the green agenda would cost us dearly. In terms of safety, health, and in terms of the economy. I am sure these countries will create an environment in which renewables projects are deployed more intensively than today," Mitrovic said in an interview ahead of the Solarplaza Summit Balkans in Zagreb on December 8.

Some of the challenges renewable energy projects in the region are facing, like the war in Ukraine, inflation, the growing lending costs and supply chain disruption, are affecting the entire continent and beyond, while the others are local, Mitrovic said in an interview ahead of the Solarplaza Summit Balkans in Zagreb on December 8.

Lack of zoning plans, environmental impact assessments, complicated and unresolved land matters, delays in permitting, ungrounded requests or inconsistent practice of authorities are among the most common issues, based on Mitrovic's experience as an energy lawyer advising clients in matters related to the development, operation and financing of new energy projects.

"Experience from various projects, from the region and Europe, helps us along this way. But a key precondition is to listen to each other," he commented.

Despite the challenges, the residential and industrial sectors are leading the way when it comes to installed solar capacity in most of the Western Balkan countries.

"In Serbia for example this is a direct result of a successful regulatory reform in this area, in particular the introduction of the 'prosumer' concept in the legal system for the first time," Mitrovic said.

Croatia is the only country in the Western Balkans with significant capacity already in place, installed by independent power producers (IPPs).

The picture is changing as there are a number of IPP projects in the pipeline, in different stages of development. Some are already under construction. "Sky-high electricity prices following revival of industry after the first wave of Covid-19, green policy initiatives but also the matter of energy security in the future are to thank for that," Mitrovic commented.

Croatia also has significant potential in terms of the development of large-scale solar power plants in the future. There is also room for further development of wind projects, as well as a significant potential for the development and use of geothermal energy in Croatia’s northern parts, he added.

"Some reputable estimations show that currently 3.5 GW of solar projects in the pipeline are expected to reach the ready-to-build phase in a couple of years," he noted.

The future looks promising for Albania too. It is among the leaders in Europe in terms of sunshine hours per year, and by definition has significant potential for the development of solar PV for power generation, Mitrovic pointed out.

"Coupled with the need to diversify its energy sources, as the country currently relies almost completely on hydropower, favourable environment in terms of pricing and expectations of the new regulatory reform that should create a more favorable framework for renewables, it is expected that we will soon see a significant number of wind and solar projects going live in Albania."

Still, in his view, Serbia will probably see the highest growth. More than 16 GW of new renewable energy projects are seeking grid connection, even though it is clear that not all of them will be finalised, he noted.

Based on early scenarios of the National Climate and Energy Plan, Serbia will see 5 GW of new wind and solar capacities by 2030. The prosumer concept introduced in 2021 has almost doubled the installed capacity of solar from the previous decade in just a single year, the lawyer pointed out.

Across Southeast Europe, the governments of non-EU member states have vowed to break up with coal, at least as part of the energy strategies they are drawing, but the energy crisis of the past year has given rise to concerns that they could step back. According to Mitrovic, however, the crisis has actually boosted the region's green transition.

"I would say that the crises did something completely opposite, and that, in the long run, gave the green transition additional wind at its back. No one doubts anymore that energy security is a precondition of national security. It is true that as a limited and short-term response to the energy crisis certain decisions are made that could be interpreted in a way that Europe is returning to fossil fuels, but I believe such interpretation is deeply wrong and more often than not malicious."

"Relevant sources clearly say that Europe can ensure energy safety only through an intensive deployment of renewables. And Europe will certainly not give up on that," he stressed. "I would say the same goes for the Western Balkans. It of course does not mean that coal power plants should be decommissioned tomorrow."

Already, the legal frameworks of the Western Balkan countries are predominantly aligned with the acquis communautaire on energy considering that all of them are contracting parties to the Energy Community Treaty. Where not, such as Montenegro, steps towards implementation of the acquis have already been made, Mitrovic said.

"There are certain issues which need to be fine-tuned, such as to allow direct connection of independent producers to independent (industrial) consumers without connection to the distribution system, but in general, the important thing is not to copy or transpose but to take active steps towards proper implementation of these regulations," he concluded.