Energy Transformation in Cities and Towns – Local Development Forum seminar report
The Association of Polish Cities organised its second Local Development Forum Seminar, choosing energy transformation as the focal theme. Today, towns and cities are facing enormous energy-, environmental protection-, and climate-related challenges.

The Seminar followed up on the theme of a similar meeting the Association organised in early 2021, discussions pinpointing a number of energy transformation aspects for Polish cities and towns. The subject proposed by the Association of Polish Cities proved to be extraordinarily attractive: the seminar was attended by over 3,000 participants, mostly local government officials and municipal authority staff members. Energy remains a critical local governance component in towns and cities: while converting conventional power plants into modern facilities produces desirable ecological effects, economic benefits are another, far more important factor. Municipalities are making efforts to transform and organise local energy solutions in ways reducing local community electricity bills.

Seminar participants were reminded that Poland is under obligation to deliver European Union energy-related goals defined for the period closing in the year 2030. As EU member state, we have committed i.a. to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% against 1990 levels.

During this second Seminar with an energy theme focus held on 9 September, greater importance was attached to matters of practical experience and implementing new and more environment-friendly solutions.

The European Union and Polish government alike are pursuing climate crisis prevention policies. The EU has announced its “European Green Deal” strategy aspiring to climate neutrality by the year 2050, while the “Energy Policy for Poland” document adopted by the Polish government outlines a very specific transformation framework for Polish municipalities.

Notably, the “Energy Policy until the Year 2040” adopted by the Polish government on 2 February 2021 rests upon three pillars. The first pillar – fair transformation – assumes coal region transformation, reduction in energy poverty, and development of new RES- and nuclear energy-based industry sectors.

A zero-emission energy system is the Policy’s second pillar, basing on offshore wind energy (11 GW by the year 2040), nuclear energy (approximately 6-9 GW), and local and civic energy. Herein, the government assumes an increase in the share of consumers actively participating in the energy market, development of 300 sustainable energy areas, and as many as 1 million prosumers by the year 2030.

Good air quality is the energy Policy’s third pillar. The government has assumed district heating sector transformation: the use of coal will be abandoned in individual heating systems (in urban and rural areas by the years 2030 and 2040, respectively); smokeless fuel will be fully in use by 2040; district heating will evolve in urban areas; by the year 2030, the number of households connected to district heating systems will have grown by 1.5 million. Further effects will be produced by an increase in the number of zero-energy buildings (3 million household heat sources to be replaced and 1,000 low-emission public utility buildings to open by the year 2030), and zero-emission transport: the development of electromobility. It has been assumed that as of the year 2025, zero-emission public transport vehicles will be the only ones purchased by cities with a population over 100,000. From 2030 onwards, public transport will operate zero-emission vehicles only. Furthermore, the government intends to increase the share of RES-based solutions across all sectors and technologies.

The focal theme of the September Seminar was well embedded in increased climate crisis awareness. “We are faced with change of truly qualitative proportions: such matters used to be deliberated by experts, decisionmakers nodding in agreement. Today, decisionmakers are not the only ones mindful to the crisis: we as local residents are aware of it as well,” said Tomasz Potkański, Deputy Director of the Association of Polish Cities Office during the meeting. “When planning to light a fire in my own fireplace, for example, I begin by checking if I can do so on the given day – Podkowa Leśna, the town I live in, has passed a relevant resolution already, and I have every intention of respecting it.”

By the year 2030, coal is to be abolished as household fuel in Polish towns and cities. This means that other solutions – RES-based, for example – will have to be introduced. All-embracing district heating system development has been planned for urban areas: 1.5 million users are to be connected to the grid, and 3 million household heating systems replaced. The share of RES in electricity generation, district heating and transport is to reach 32%.

This merits the following questions: will cities and towns be able to meet all challenges; what conditions they will have to meet; and which technologies will be recognised as most beneficial. Consequently, local governments will soon face the necessity to seek measures basing on renewable, clean, green technologies. Furthermore, it would be important for all solutions to take advantage of and stimulate local urban potential.

These and other questions and issues were raised during the Association of Polish Cities Seminar. Experts and practitioners talked i.a. about the importance and use of RES, the impact of biomass incineration on air quality, and funding projects employing RES technologies. Good practices involving the comprehensive approach to energy transformation in Krosno were shared. Janusz Fic, President of the Board of MPGK (Municipal Services Company) KROSNO spoke i.a. of a conventional combined heat and power plant using RES, an ORC-based heat and electricity generation technology using local biomass resources, and the use of biogas and hydro-energy.

It is noteworthy that the series of seminars is delivered as part of the “Local Development” Programme implemented by the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy within the framework of the 3rd edition of Norway and European Economic Area Grants.