Covenant of Mayors
  Covenant Newsletter June 2012  
Energy autonomy, self-sustaining economy
{{{Interview with Camille Gira, Mayor of Beckerich.}}} The small, rural municipality of Beckerich in Luxembourg has set itself the very ambitious objective of achieving energy self-sufficiency, making optimisation of natural resources one of its utmost priorities. The progressive implementation of this vision, embodied by the very dedicated Mayor Camille Gira, is bearing fruit in terms of local economic development and in building the municipality’s international reputation. But for such ambitious visions to materialize fully, as Camille Gira discusses in an interview with the Covenant of Mayors Office, the European Institutions need to support cities with adequate financing instruments, particularly those local authorities which have already adopted their Sustainable Energy Action Plan.

Covenant of Mayors Office: The Covenant of Mayors guidelines for the development of Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs) stress the importance of setting out long-term visions, in addition to short and medium-term priorities. How is this principle being applied in your municipality?

Energy self-sufficiency is the long term objective of Beckerich. Today we generate 90% of our low-tension electricity and 30% of our heat demand. We try to derive maximum benefit of the enormous wind, solar and biomass potential specific to rural areas. In 2010, we raised €400, 000 euros by selling heat. Local energy production is important also from an economic point of view: money stays in Beckerich and benefits the local economy.

We also take action in energy efficiency. We provide services such as energy audits to our citizens and especially low-income households to whom we grant interest-free loans. For the moment we are trying to launch a similar model for all kinds of households. We are also retrofitting existing municipal buildings via contracting.

To support the launch of these activities we have had to sort out the issue of funding and this was no easy task. We started by setting up a private company with 150 small stakeholders. If there is no funding available from government or banks, get it from your citizens! If the money is well invested, people are ready to pay. You should always show people what you do with their money, so communication is essential. This company now employs 12 people and is considered as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Beckerich.

After 15 years of active climate protection policy, joining the Covenant of Mayors and adopting a Sustainable Energy Action Plan gave us the occasion to make an evaluation of our work so far, to see the fields were we have been successful, but also the elements to be improved.

CoMO: On the occasion of a meeting with Philip Lowe, Director General of the European Commission’s Energy DG, you called for the adoption of a SEAP to be recognised as a pre-condition for the allocation of dedicated European funds. Why do you think this is so important?

Implementing a SEAP requires long term financing. Long-term problems cannot be solved by short-term instruments. The best solution for securing long term financing as well as simplifying application processes would be to use the SEAP as a ‘passport’ for access to funding.

This condition could pave the way for more efficient use of instruments such as structural funds and the ERDF, of which 20% should now be earmarked for sustainable energy measures. Sustainable Energy Action Plans could serve as a quality standard for receiving EU funding, as the SEAP is evaluated by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, and it ensures that the local authority has a long-term strategy, defined targets and a set of actions to achieve those.

In order to foster exchange and concrete proposals related to financing, it is worth pointing out that the network Climate Alliance, of which I am an executive board member, has launched a dedicated working group to discuss funding solutions and mechanisms and seek to influence the new EU budget 2014-2020.

CoMO: The Covenant of Mayors now gathers over 4,000 signatories, from small municipalities like Beckerich to major European capitals such as Paris or London. What do you think makes the initiative so successful and what are the keys to maintaining this momentum?

In the past 20 years, a lot of cities and municipalities have been at the forefront of climate protection policy. In many cases, they did not receive adequate support from their national government. The fact that the European commission launched the Covenant of Mayors shows that the important role of local governments is well recognised at the highest level of the European institutions. This is a very important moral support for committed local decision makers.

To ensure the long-term success of the initiative, the Commission will have to provide the necessary financing instruments for the investments needed to implement a continuous climate protection policy on a local and regional level. This is especially important for small communities with very limited budgets, especially in the difficult times we are living at the moment. Zero-interest loans from the EIB is an example of one of the appropriate instruments which could be leveraged to address this concern.

    >> Covenant Monthly Newsletter June 2012 <<
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  The sole responsibility for the content of this newsletter lies with the Covenant of Mayors Office. It does not necessary reflect the opinion of the European Union. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein. The Covenant of Mayors was set up with financial support of the European Commission and consists of five associations of European local authorities: Energy Cities, Climate Alliance, Eurocities, CEMR, Fedarene, and ICLEI Europe.

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