Slovakia’s energy sector will be almost carbon-free in 2030, says Norbert Kurilla.

Norbert Kurilla is State Secretary at the Ministry of Environment of the Slovak Republic.

What can we expect from the Low Carbon Strategy for 2050 and Environmental Policy Strategy for 2030 drafted by the Ministry of Environment?

Both strategies are focused on air quality protection in the context of the changing climate. Concerning the Low Carbon Strategy, we cooperate with the World Bank on a low-carbon study, which will identify the potential of CO2 reduction in specific sectors, including energy. The study will propose development scenarios and identify the most cost-effective measures.

The Environmental Policy Strategy is currently being discussed by experts. We are just before the phase of strategic review. More than 150 reputable experts in seven groups are overseeing the formation of the strategy. One of the groups is working on air quality.

Will the government approve the Environmental Policy Strategy this year already?

We have the ambition. Because the strategic review lasts four months, the approval may be delayed by a month or so. However, we also want to present the Environmental Policy Strategy in Brussels and insert it in the European context, so it would be compatible with EU’s strategic outlook documents.

We have a lot of strategies in Slovakia, the problem is their implementation. How binding will these strategies be?

They will be approved by the government of the Slovak Republic. Even though there is a large variety of strategic documents, not all of them have reached the milestone of governmental approval. The 2030 Environmental Policy Strategy will cover seven themes. The last time we had this kind of strategic planning on the ministerial level was maybe in the 2002, when we were preparing the Sustainable Development Strategy. Specific action plans will follow up on the strategy. Money will be allocated in specific time frames. Concerning the air quality, we are going to focus on the measures that will produce the strongest possible impact for the lowest possible costs.

Which areas will the Low Carbon Strategy cover?

It has a much wider reach than the Environmental Policy Strategy: economy, industry, energy sector, transportation, agriculture, housing, and waste. It will be much more complex. It will offer both short- and long-term solutions. We are working with forward-looking development models. Apart from the document itself, the capacity-building in the public service also has a big added value. Colleagues from other ministries are coming to trainings to our Ministry thanks to the expertise of the World Bank

Besides the political tools, we also need a good analytic document, which identifies the opportunities and threats, has an outlook for the next 10 years and, ideally, a vision for 2050. It will be followed by a series of specific legislative measures.

Slovakia is supposed to submit to the European Commission its climate-energy strategy within the Energy Union by 2019. I would logically think that it will overlap with the Low Carbon Strategy or even be the same. Am I wrong?

They will not be the same, but they will be highly compatible. Yes, climate-energy plans should be approved by the 2019. The Low Carbon Strategy, which will be based on the low-carbon study drafted in cooperation with the World bank, will be the analytical document that will allow us to plan until 2030. It will also offer measures that may mean a higher cost, but will have a significant effect in the long term.

Will the strategies drafted by the Environment Ministry deal with the desired future energy mix?

The decarbonization trend in energy and industry is unstoppable. We have approved global documents like the Paris climate agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. We also see bottom-up initiatives. The innovation potential is clearly present – energy efficiency translates into a growing focus on clean energy.

The global agreements do not deal with the energy mix of the individual countries, it is their national competence. Does Slovakia plan to define it for the future?

I do think so. We have the Energy Policy of Slovak republic (approved in 2014). It may be revised also following the 2030 climate-energy plans (within the Energy Union). The low-carbon study will not cover the structure of the desired energetic mix, but will emphasize decarbonization.

Concerning the energy sector, we hope that Mochovce [two new nuclear reactors – ed.] will be finished two years from now and 80 percent of our electric energy will then be carbon-free. And in 2030, almost the entire energy sector will be carbon-free.

That means that in 2030 we will not be burning coal.

Coal has a certain importance, but due to the strict standards its use will be much more limited. But I do not dare to estimate, how much longer will coal still be a reliable source of energy.

Can you imagine that coal power will be phased out earlier than 2030?

I do not dare to estimate that. The Ministry of Economy (responsible for Slovakia’s energy policy) is currently suggesting such an option. Hornonitrianske bane (Upper Nitra Mines) are preparing for the transformation phase. Everything will depend on the expert discussion of the concerned parties.

The European institutions failed to reach an agreement on the reform of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) after 2020. What are Slovakia’s priorities?

For Slovakia, it is crucial to set a clear target for the industry and energy sector regulated by the ETS. We must also sufficiently define the aspect of carbon leakage - the threat of energy intensive industries moving outside of the European Union. The Slovak economy depends on heavy and energy intensive industries and we must protect them sufficiently provided their investments go into modernization, innovations and clean technologies.

It is also needed to revive the trade with emission allowances. The price is too low. This tool isn’t fulfilling its function of setting the carbon price. The carbon market is currently stagnating or even collapsing.

For some sectors including the energy intensive ones, the journey will be very complicated. However, other sectors will be trend setters.

Which sectors in Slovakia are we talking about?

Indirectly this concerns the aluminium production, which depends on energy prices, but has also a strong innovation potential. It is also in our best interest to support the innovation capacity in the production of paper, cement, or steel. That’s why we want to use – and that’s another priority – the opportunities provided by the modernisation fund in the most effective way

Should the fund support also the coal sector? Because this was the main concern of the European Parliament and a reason for the trialogue to fail.

There were more reasons. The main condition currently trending is using the modernisation fund for supporting energy efficiency projects. The Parliament is trying to set an emission standard, which would largely disadvantage energy production form coal. However, the discussions are ongoing.

What is Slovakia’s position?

We agree that emission standards should improve. Regarding the 550 g CO2/kWh limit, we could support it under the condition of transitional measures and a transitional period for the concerned sectors. The 550 g CO2/kWh limit is not imposed only in the new legislation on the internal electricity market and the capacity mechanisms, but also in the legislation on the EU ETS and the modernisation fund.

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The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 785277.