Detelina Nikolova, Mayor of Dobrich Municipality, in an interview with Focus Radio
Focus: Ms Nikolova, I would like to start with the topic from our previous conversation, to make a smooth transition. We spoke with MEP Iliyana Yotova about the possibilities for exploration and extraction of shale gas in Bulgaria. Yesterday, petitions against shale gas explorations in Bulgaria were tabled in the EU. Because this issue concerns the Dobrich region, as a Mayor of Dobrich, how do you comment on this?
Detelina Nikolova: This topic is not only a serious one, but it is also a part of the policies that our country needs to rationalise – whether extraction of shale gas fits in the country’s energy plan, or not. I believe that this issue should be subject of a large-scale public discussion. As far as Dobrich is concerned, I can only say that we are a municipality, which does not have any fields, where exploration of shale gas could be initiated. However, as a part of the Dobrudzha region, naturally, we need to come up with a joint decision, whether there should be shale gas exploration, or not. As we know, as a result of public discussions, which were extremely “for” or extremely “against”, we imposed moratorium in January, as the National Assembly imposed a ban on the application of hydraulic fracturing technology in 2012. Probably, this decision resulted in a rationalisation in the following months. We all need to take part in this dialogue – whether shale gas extraction should be allowed on Bulgarian territory. This dialogue even reached the European Parliament. I think that we need to listen to the opinions of specialists and people, who could direct our attention and give us more information. We need to initiate meetings with them and understand all points of view “for” and “against”, so that every single person and all public groups, who wish to express their opinion and position, would be capable and able to do so. After all, only one political decision is not enough. I think that there needs to be a public dialogue, where a large number of specialists can express their positions.
Back in 2011, before the term of the previous term of the Municipal Council expired, in September we organised an extraordinary sitting of the Municipal Council, where we discussed this issue, as then there was a heated discussion whether shale gas exploration and extraction should be allowed on the territory of the Dobrich Region. The sitting ended with a decision that in order to have a really competent position on this issue, both by public and political figures, we needed to conduct numerous meetings with specialists in this field, who could explain to the people the visions, developments, and existing attempts for shale gas exploration and extraction on a global scale. Only after that we could come up with a competent opinion. There could be no adequate opinion, without sufficient information. That is why the Regional Governor organised a meeting with specialists. The Municipality was ready to restart this dialogue after the new Municipal Council stepped in office, but after the moratorium was imposed, we had to wait for a more convenient time, in order our co-citizens to be really well informed, and in order to have a really useful dialogue in the energy sphere.
Focus: Speaking about energy, it is interesting to switch the topic to green energy. The thing that is about to happen in Dobrich is impressive. It turns out that it will be the second Bulgarian city, where a charging station for electric vehicles will be installed. You are working towards a more widespread use of green energy. Could you, please, tell us more about your plans in this direction?
Detelina Nikolova: I can proudly say that Dobrich won the Bulgarian Eco-Municipality 2012 award, in a competition organised by Via Expo in co-operation with the Foundation for Local Government Reform, National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria, Association of the Environmentalists in the Municipalities in Bulgaria, and Bulgarian Association for Sustainable Energy. This happened during the Congress of Representatives of South-East Europe, which took place in the National Palace of Culture in Sofia. The energy efficiency forum [which took place simultaneously to the abovementioned congress] provided details about the present situation and the future of renewable energy and waste management in South-East Europe. Each municipality has its place with regards to green energy policy. I can say that Dobrich well-deservedly received the Bulgarian Eco-Municipality award, as our policy for energy efficiency and the measures we have taken in this regard, are a part of the sustainable growth of our municipality. This process started in our municipality back in the 1990s. I will make an analogue with a very well developed, and probably a leader in this sphere, country – Denmark, where several discussions were organised in March, as well as the European Summit of Regions and Cities, where I participated as a member of EU’s Committee of the Regions. We were able to see Denmark’s experience in this field, which started back in 1962. Back then they started the establishment of the so-called Cyclists Society. This was a clear example how a country, and a society, had established its policy, and now after 50 years Denmark became a leader in the sphere of renewable energy sources and environmental development, without affecting the strength of its economy. The parameters we saw there could be applied by many Bulgarian municipalities, in one form or another.
The Dobrich Municipality started its serious experience in this sphere, as I said, back in 1998, when we first established an Energy Efficiency Bureau. After that the municipality started developing and maintaining a specialised energy database, which helped us monitor the energy consumption in all municipal objects. This was a very difficult initiative, and it was unknown to many colleagues around Bulgaria, but with the establishment of the Municipal Network for Energy Efficiency – an initially informal organisation, which later was legitimised, the good practices of each municipality became available to other municipalities, and we started exchanging very useful ideas. Despite the fact that not all Bulgarian municipalities are a part of this municipal energy efficiency network, we have managed to come up with extremely good plans for municipal energy efficiency. Subsequently, under the pressure of NGOs and thanks to the experience of some of the Bulgarian municipalities, the Bulgarian parliament adopted regulations, according to which each municipality had to have an energy efficiency programme. We had already had such a programme, and we became partners with many of our colleagues throughout the country, who did not have such experience, and we were helping each other, as it was vital to have a unit of specialists, who would work in this regard – accumulate and develop ideas. When there is political will, be it by the mayor or the municipal council, things will always happen. That was exactly how our municipality started its energy efficiency programme.
Now we have a new programme, which is for the 2008-2013 period, but it is also a part of our strategic plan for development – Dobrich 2020. In this context, I can say that we have been leading a coherent and consistent policy, over the last 15 years. Thus we have gained a lot of experience, we have excellent specialists, and we are now using different instruments, in order to build upon the foundations we have in the energy efficiency sector, both with regards to the public sector buildings, and for training specialists and establishing new activities for development. Dobrich was the first Bulgarian municipality, back in 2003, which had all its public sector using natural gas. We started a very ambitious policy, and through negotiations with natural gas operators, we managed to establish this excellent base. This reduced, to a large extend, the greenhouse emissions in the municipality. We are continuing our efforts in this direction, as we now have regulations, which allow us to use new instruments, like ESCO contracts, for example. We have already started applying a full pack of energy efficiency measures, on the principle of ESCO contracts, i.e. a company provides the financial resource and covers the activities, after which we pay it back, based on the economies made over a certain period of time.