Interview of the Officer of the Department of Civil Liability for Environmental Policy, N.D. Party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
What is your opinion regarding the “Helios” Project that has been recently announced?
It is a good idea to export clean energy that is produced in our country even though I have reservations as to the outcome of this venture. This government, at any rate, has shown that even though it is not lacking in initiatives, it has a serious problem with its job performance. This project has many gray areas that need to be clarified, such as how much investment interest has actually been expressed, how it will be financed, how the licensing and location procedures will operate, how the transmission networks will be enhanced, etc. Personally, I am not holding my breath in regards to this program as in our country we still have a long way to go in accomplishing the goal we have put forth regarding tapping solar energy in our domestic energy balance. I don’t know how we will succeed in achieving a viable level of exploitation of this resource and also produce a surplus for export within a reasonable period of time. Let us be realistic. If we had done what we needed to do in the past in the RES sector, we would be in a very favorable position today and we would be discussing investment opportunities for clean energy on a different basis.
Even though many laws and ministerial decisions have been amended, what is the reason that RES projects are taking so long to be implemented?
You have just raised one of the most serious problems we face today; we have too many laws and too much bureaucracy that ultimately stifles the development of renewable energy sources (RES) in our country. When you keep changing the institutional framework, when you have not yet managed to get passed the planning phase and overcome other obstacles, when investors are constantly being held back by uncertainty, you shouldn’t expect much to happen. It is a true oxymoron that we have set such attractive prices in order to produce clean energy, but our country still cannot exploit the comparative advantages that the RES sector undoubtedly has to offer. This mockery of the much-vaunted rural photovoltaic panels, abandoning household photovoltaic panels as well as non-existent policies regarding small and medium-sized projects are typical examples of RES opportunities that have never got off the ground. Unfortunately, even in this sector, the government has proven that in the past 23 months, it has “succeeded” in turning the concept of green development, which it claims to profess itself, into a green recession.
In this difficult economic juncture, how should the Greek state assist green investments?
First of all, I must say that especially in this difficult economic reality we are experiencing, it is absolutely imperative that we find engines for growth. One of these is the environment and the sub-branches that go along with it that, in my opinion, consist of important productive reserves for the country that must finally be utilized. Waste management, water and sewage management, small-hydro and energy saving are just some of the sub-branches that can contribute to economic growth in our country. The government cannot use the economic recession and the financial problems our nation is going through as a way of covering up its obvious failure to develop dynamic and very promising sub-branches of clean energy and environmental economy. Besides, the environmental economy sector, which is a powerful engine for economic development in other European countries, does not need much financial support from the state because the vast majority of the cost is covered by private investment. What is most needed is a stable and unambiguous institutional framework (taxes, location, authorization, etc) that unfortunately we have not been able to put in place as of now. Consequently, this is where we must concentrate all our efforts.
Lately, there has been a lot of discussion regarding the lifting of the ban on diesel fuel in Athens. What is your opinion?
I’m glad that the government has decided, albeit late, to adopt a proposal that I have submitted for a long time now. Personally, I have been in favor of lifting an obsolete ban that doesn’t really make much sense anymore and I believe that the time has come to do away with it. At the same time, however, heating fuel and fuel for cars must be taxed at the same rate otherwise adulterated fuel will flood the market. But besides diesel fuel, if we want to confront the problem of small pollutants in urban centers, we must take measures regarding old trucks and taxis that are mainly responsible for pollution today. The discussion regarding the liberalization of diesel fuel consumption must be integrated into a general discussion regarding the general automobile policy in major cities. Diesel is not the only technology which, if you like, can improve the economy and the fuel-efficiency of cars. There are many other technologies such as hydrogen and natural gas that are already entering the market at a fast pace that driver are using to “respond” to the economic crisis without any special incentives from the State. Consequently, I believe that, along with the green ring measure, we can begin discussing a transportation economic policy that is more environmentally friendly.
Waste management has become a problem with unknown solution. What is your position?
For me, waste management has become a very volatile problem that does not just have environmental but also economic and social dimensions. Our country has unfortunately failed miserably in this sector and the result has been that whole regions such as Attica and Peloponnesus have now reached their limits. There are no secret solutions so long as we don’t continue handling a real problem with outdated political solutions. We are paying for our inaction these past few years and we are now in danger of paying even higher penalties imposed by the EU if present trends continue. Especially here in Attica, where time is fast running out, there is no other solution than the immediate procurement and construction of all projects included in the peripheral plan for the Attica Basin without further delays. And I am talking about waste incineration areas(landfills) and processing plants. The government has wasted precious time and is now in danger of losing community funds because it has handled this issue with communication tricks and by flip-flopping. It is time for the government to become more serious about how it will confront this crucial problem that some of its members continue to minimize before it becomes uncontrollable so that we don’t have to live in a capital that resembles Naples.
You have recently intervened in the issue of micro-hydroelectricity projects, that caused quite a stir. Why did you select this sector?
This is a typical example of a productive sector of the environmental economy that is in danger of becoming more insignificant because of bureaucratic red tape and institutional ambiguities that I mentioned previously. With approximately 1,500 MW of usable micro-hydroelectricity, our country should be a leader in this sector in Europe. Instead, however, in the already complicated and time-consuming location and environmental authorization process for micro-hydroelectricity, the government recently added special location criteria (diversion length, ecological benefits, etc.) of dubious functionality and scientific documentation. Now there is a danger that these will throw a spanner in 50 mature investment projects and may ultimately result in micro-hydroelectricity grinding to a screeching halt. We no longer have the luxury of leaving productive sectors that can contribute to the development and the local economies to chance simply because some people are too beholden to formalities and not to substance.
In your daily routine, have you adopted methods that protect the environment?
I always try to include environmentally friendly habits in my daily routine. The difference is that now some of these routines such as, for example, recycling have now become second nature. I recycle at my office and at home. I try to use as little electricity as I can. I buy organic products more often, even if they are more expensive. And for a little while, I was driving a hybrid car. Before I turned in my parliamentary car, I had recommended that Parliament replace the conventional cars that emit many pollutants with hybrid cars for all MPs as an essential and symbolic step in making our citizens more environmentally conscious. However, I believe that we all have plenty of space for improvement in making our daily routine more environmentally friendly.