Responding to Urban Energy and Climate Crises – Local Development Forum Seminar Report
How to communicate with local residents in times of energy crisis? Why is it worth our while to choose the energy transformation path? Why should we employ a municipal power engineer? These and other subjects were debated during the LDF Seminar.

This was the fourth meeting with a focus on local government-level energy transformation organised by the Association of Polish Cities, and the thirty-first seminar of the Local Development Forum cycle “Activating Endogenic Potential as a Condition for Medium-sized and Small City and Town Development in Poland.

Włocławek hosted the final meeting of 2022, talks focusing on crisis communication and models of responding to urban climate and energy crises.

Expert and populariser of climate sciences Marcin Popkiewicz gave a presentation on potential energy transformation scenarios for Poland, the transformation itself considered essential to meet global climate challenges, resolve the issue of disastrous air quality in Poland, and offer us fossil fuel burning independence.

Włocławek’s energy transformation – best practices as well as efficient and money-saving solutions – were discussed by deputy mayor Krzysztof Kukucki. Even before Russian aggression against Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis, Włocławek’s authorities had adopted the objective of making the city autonomous in terms of energy supplies three years ago. “This was when we bought electric buses, fully aware they could not be powered with coal-fired electricity,” said Krzysztof Kukucki. Other goals adopted by the city’s local government included reducing energy use by municipal units, and decarbonising Włocławek’s district heating system, all activities designed to improve local quality of life.

Employ power engineers at municipal offices!

Employing a municipal power engineer was one of the early steps intended to warrant the delivery of goals the city aspired to. The city created the job and position back in 2020; as deputy mayor Kukucki emphasised, the measure proved extraordinarily profitable, as the city spent far less on the specialist’s salary than it gained in solutions he proposed.

“Our municipal power engineer’s analyses have proven that in case of electricity, the difference between volumes of power ordered and actually used is huge. Such a review of power volumes ordered generated over one million zlotys in savings,” said deputy mayor of Włocławek, encouraging local governments operating without municipal power engineers or expert teams to create such position or units. He also pointed to the swift return on related investment.

Włocławek on a path to energy independence

In terms of “hard” investments, Włocławek has already completed thermal modernisation of schools and kindergartens, all streetlamps replaced with energy-saving substitutes. The deputy mayor emphasised that at the investment design stage already, officials had been making sure that all planned objects and facilities would save energy and self-generate electricity from renewable energy sources. Consequently, an analysis of all municipally-owned property had been conducted in terms of generating electricity from renewable sources. Seventy municipal buildings with roofing best-suited to accommodate solar panel installations were identified in the process. Furthermore, 22 hectares of land owned by the city and deemed inadequate as industrial investment sites had been earmarked for photovoltaic farm construction. These farms will generate twice the electricity demand of the local government and all its units.

Włocławek’s local government is planning to develop an energy cluster and geothermal district heating plant. A demo single-family “energy positive” house is now under construction in town, the building to generate more energy than it will consume. Municipal zoning plans include the development of an entire estate of such homes on a five-hectare city-owned site.

A support structure for the city’s energy policy and “hard” investment activities, Włocławek’s “Warm to See You” (Ciepło Cię widzieć) programme was presented during the seminar.

Warm to See You!

Włocławek’s authorities and their social partners developed a special local resident assistance programme, designed out of care for the city’s inhabitants in times of the most severe energy crisis in years, giant energy price increases, and the highest inflation rates in decades.

“Our programme is a real and specific response to the current crisis,” CEO of the Charger (Ładowarka) and “Warm to See You” programme co-ordinator Dominik Cieślikiewicz said during the seminar. “The most important thing of all is to take note of how the crisis has affected every individual local resident.”

The programme kicked off on 20 October 2022 with an energy transformation workshop for local government officials from Włocławek and the neighbourhood. Initiated for the local community the very next day, the programme shall involve the delivery of several dozen meetings, workshops, and individual household energy saving and cost optimisation and energy efficiency consultations (including a workshop on how to read and interpret electricity bills). Technical events will be accompanied by interesting cultural events, “heat”-themed workshops (e.g. clothing sewing classes) and classes for children, all activities held at the community “Śródmieście Café”. All events involve an extra notion of letting residents gather on warm heated premises, in a “hot spot”, over the autumn and winter season. The solution offers a sense of community closeness and safety on the one hand, and a household budget saving opportunity on the other.

Handling crisis communication

One of the seminar speakers, PR advisor and “Warm to See You” programme expert Andrzej Godewski spoke of empathetic crisis communication engaged in by local governments. He showcased and described individual procedures and activities that should be followed in times of crisis, explained the rules of responsible response to crisis situations, and referenced deficits in local government communication in terms of clarifying current circumstances and taking specific action.