The role of community energy in Just Transition: the Greek example, challenges and opportunities

Τhe Green Tank co-organized a special session on “Community Energy and Just Transition in coal regions” in the context of the European Citizen Energy Academy (EUCENA) Summer School. During the session, Ioanna Theodosiou, policy officer at The Green Tank, moderated and provided an overview presentation titled “The role of community energy in Just Transition: the Greek example, challenges and opportunities”. The session aimed at drawing from the Greek experience, while also integrating the experience of other regions on the Just Transition process, with the participation of the following speakers:

Apostolos Agrafiotis, Energy Community of Kozani Municipality, who spoke on “The role of the Municipality of Kozani in Community energy and Just Transition”; Lefteris Ioannidis, Ofelos Network, who spoke on “Citizens’ action in Western Macedonia, Ofelos Network of energy communities”; Vlad Catuna and Marian Mandru, Greenpeace RO, who spoke on Greenpeace’s proposal to the Romanian Just Transition Fund – Just Transition plan procedure / Status of community energy in Romania; Irene HongPing Shen, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy/ University of New York, who spoke on the “Experience of workers in the public ownership of energy; Ignacio Navarro Guzman, Greenpeace Greece, who spoke on “Greenpeace global campaign: Global Energy Democracy and Just Transition Strategy”.

With her presentation, Ioanna Theodosiou gave a broad overview of Just Transition developments in the EU before focusing her remarks on the status of energy communities within the Just Transition process in Greece’s two lignite regions (Western Macedonia and Megalopolis), identifying challenges noted and offering recommendations to address them.

In particular, initially she explained why community energy is important for the Just Transition process, as Energy Communities ensure local participation and at the same time they help people to reach directly the economic benefits from the energy transition taking place in their regions. Moving on to the Just Transition under way in Europe, Ioanna Theodosiou explained the main provisions of the EU Just Transition Mechanism and informed participants of the obligation of Member States to prepare Territorial Just Transition Plans for all eligible regions in order to ensure access to EU funding. Focusing on Greece, she emphasized that Greece is the first MS with Territorial Just Transition Plans for three regions (Western Macedonia, Megalopolis, the North and South Aegean Islands, and Crete) and also a Just Transition Development Plan 2021-2027 approved by the European Commission. She highlighted that energy communities are eligible for funding based on the provisions of the approved Plans.

More specifically, the EU Just Transition Fund can be used to cover part of the installation costs for:

  • RES –based power generation systems,
  • RES-based heating systems,
  • energy storage infrastructure,
  • energy efficiency projects by energy communities.

With 265 of Greece’s 1258 Energy Communities established in the country’s lignite regions planning 750 renewables projects, while 74 of a total of 879 Energy Community projects are already in operation, the growing interest in energy community is evident. However, important barriers remain to be resolved. These issues include, potential grid availability, state aid issues unresolved that hinder access to funds, delays in the transposition of key EU Directives (namely, the Renewable Energy Directive (REDII) and the Internal Electricity Market Directive (IEMD) and, finally, market distortions at the expense of non-for profit energy communities.

Drawing from the Greek experience, Ioanna Theodosiou concluded her introductory contribution with key recommendations that would help better establish Energy Communities as an essential tool for a truly Just Transition in lignite regions:

  • Ensure that Renewable Energy Communities investments are included in the Territorial Just Transition Plans.
  • Utilize various EU and national funds (JTM, other EU Funds and Revenues from the EU Emissions Trading System) in favor of local communities.
  • Set specific quantitative targets for the development of energy communities in National Energy and Climate Plans.
  • Give incentives for cooperation of large renewable energy companies with Energy Communities through shareholding.
  • Protect energy communities from unfair competitive processes and ensure equal terms of participation in the energy market for energy communities.

The event was held on June 28, 2022, in Thessaloniki.

The summer school held in the context of the EUCENA and the COMPILE projects, aimed to foster networking at the Balkan level and cross-country exchange of ideas, tools, knowledge, and good practices, as well collaboration with partners from Central Europe and Western Europe, which already has a strong tradition of citizen energy. The overarching objective of the summer school was to start forming a Balkan Community Energy Network through a growing community of practitioners/ambassadors and to support the growth of energy communities in the Eastern region of Europe.