The international conference “Western Balkans: Infrastructure and Energy From a Geopolitical Perspective” was held on May 29 in Warsaw, Poland. The conference was co-organized by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the editorial team of the geopolitical quarterly The Warsaw Institute Review. The event was part of the official program of Poland’s presidency of the Berlin Process and served as a preparatory meeting for the 2019 Western Balkans Summit, which will take place in Poznań. The event’s contents partner was the Warsaw Institute think tank.
Director of the Department of Sectoral Policies at the Ministry of European Integration Vjosa Beqaj (Kosovo) outlined the priorities of the Kosovar government in setting new energy-making capacities with the use of both conventional and renewable sources, also informing that the government has been investigating launching gas connections as the country lacks such infrastructure. Speaking of regional energy cooperation, Ms. Beqaj focused on the need to enhance local coordination provided that the Western Balkan countries seek to both implement legislation and fulfill their obligation under the EU Connectivity Agenda. As she said, challenges in integrating particular energy markets have arisen from some political reasons, which need to be handled appropriately by individual countries of the region.
Editor for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) Besar Likmeta (Albania) said in turn that all Western Balkan states need to put forward an appropriate “masterplan” for regional cooperation. While some countries rely on generating electricity from renewable sources, the amount of energy generated does not always comply with local demand, hence a need for importing electricity supplies and enhancing both quality and efficiency of connections between individual states. What he also stated was that corruption and unclear procedures applying to investments financed by taxpayers have emerged as a considerable challenge that needs to be tackled. Furthermore, he said that there were no long-term studies or risk analyses referring to the extensive use of hydroelectric power plants that enjoyed high popularity in the region.
Director of the Energy Regulatory Agency Novak Medenica (Montenegro) drew attention to short and long-term costs of generating electricity, saying that coal-based energy is far cheaper than renewables and it is easier to use it to boost output capacity yet such a solution entails long-term environmental and health costs. Also, he pointed to the very high share of black coal and lignite in the energy mix while explaining technical and legal factors behind the regional electricity grid and emphasizing a particular role of both operators and regulators in the entire process. Finally, he said that of all Western Balkan countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only electricity net exporter, with others having to ship energy supplies from abroad.
Journalist at an online platform “Balkan Green Energy News” Vladimir Spasic admitted the Balkans’ privileged position in using renewables as a salient feature to be employed to develop the region and reduce CO2 emissions. Also, he referred to the plans of Serbian decision-makers to introduce actions allowing faster development of solar and wind energy. Asked about the role of natural gas in the region, Mr. Spasic said that while most European countries view blue fuel as a good source of transitional energy used for transforming power, the Western Balkans find it challenging to ensure the security of their gas flows. Moreover, he stressed the importance of large energy infrastructure projects in the region, with the TAP, TANAP, and TurkStream pipelines at the forefront.
In turn, Energy and Climate Change Program Coordinator of the Center for Ecology and Energy Denis Žiško (Bosnia and Herzegovina) argued that the Western Balkan countries should focus on developing both the renewable and prosumer energy sector, saying that it is vital to launch decarbonization processes to drastically reduce harmful CO2 emission. Mr. Žiško claimed that the region faced a challenge of selecting an appropriate path of its energy development and called for developing renewable energy instead of its conventional type as the latter will need to be abandoned within the next few decades. The Western Balkans require considerable financial outlays in both respects, yet Mr. Žiško insisted on investing in clean energy to avoid the need for further energy transformations.
In his closing remarks to the second part of the discussion, Mr. Zaniewicz referred to three crucial areas of energy challenges of the Western Balkan states, among which were their high reliance on coal, cooperation between particular energy regulators and allowing coherent coordination of energy connection to be managed by grid operators.
Source: Warsaw Institute