29 September 2020

Economy restart in France: it all depends on the “how”!

For Nicolas Garnier, executive officer of Amorce, an association dedicated to assisting local authorities through the ecological transition, the policies announced in the economic restart plan are very encouraging. But some implementational details need clarifying or else they could have a disappointing effect. Explanation time.

In your view, what advances have been made on the energy front in the economic stimulus plan?

 The €6.7 billion envelope dedicated to energy renovation is in all events pretty ambitious and a sign of serious political will. The extension of energy transition tax credits to
owner-landlords and commonhold properties, along with universal entitlement to an increased 2021–2022 MaPrimRenov’ subsidy should help clinch decisions on undertaking work. Similarly, a €4 billion envelope is set aside to support renovation of council-owned public buildings, although no details have been released on the sources and procedures for these funding schemes. These vitally important tools must not however distract from the real risks arising from current changes in energy efficiency regulations for homes and offices. Resources allocated to green hydrogen (€2bn), which is interesting more and more local authorities, are also welcome.

What kind of risks do the regulations hold?

As you know, new environmental regulations to replace those of 2012 come into effect in 2021. The revamping of these regulations, as with the work in progress on the details of the office buildings directive and the energy appraisal scheme, are showing a preference for electrical solutions at the expense of effective building renovation and renewable heat sources. They could make it seem that the CO2 footprint from electric heating is divided by three, whereas only the calculation rules have changed. Another example would be preference for a heat pump, much less efficient than wood-fired heating mains, as it would still meet office building economy obligations. Moreover, in the current context of collapsing fossil fuel prices, renewables for home heating (wood, geothermal, solar, etc.) are going to need extra financial incentives, as proposed in the relevant economic stimulus plan for industry with its compensation fund schemes: a factory that installs a biogas-fuelled heating main is guaranteed compensation if ever the cost rises with respect to the fossil fuel price index. This breeds much more confidence and motivation for engaging in respectful solutions. This handful of examples shows just how much vigilance is required in rolling out this economic stimulus plan. The means are there, but the way they will be allocated and consumed and the regulatory basis for doing so need to be there also.

You work in close contact with local authorities. What are their expectations and needs in order to step up a gear in the ecological transition?

They are key stakeholders in implementing energy transition policies in their districts. Yet they don’t always have the engineering available to construct, let alone implement, these regional energy transition policies. What resources do they have for everyday implementation of the “Territorial Climate Air Energy” plans that most of them are busy finalizing? And what about the ecological transition contracts. The Prime Minister rightly wants them to be more widespread, in a new form. But the government’s plan contains no measures for funding the management and execution of these contracts, which is a real roadblock to deployment of the new proposed investment tools.

Moreover, there is still a huge gap between what councillors know and what they need to know for implementing effective energy, waste, and water policies and meeting target figures that measure up to the national and international energy and climate issues. The ecological transition is an entirely systemic issue from which convergences often emerge as well as contradicting environmental, economic, and social parameters. Local councillors must be in a position to arbitrate on these knowledgeably. 
Many of the newly elected don’t yet know that their public buildings consume energy to the tune of 5% of their budget, which renovation could halve. Or that they can use the main planning documents (“SCOT”, “PLU”) to favour or even dictate energy efficiency and renewables. Or that they can play an important part in the fight against fuel poverty, put money into industrial or crowdfunded renewable energy production projects, or distribute their own renewably produced heat.
Beyond the political project that must emerge as a government priority this term, there must be a shift toward a deeper, systemic, numbered approach to the ecological transition; “symbolic” approaches like tree planting drives don’t touch on the big issue. 
Our association, Amorce, is working on ways to give councillors greater expertise. In early October we will be issuing three complete themed guides for them and organizing regional training sessions and videoconferences to bring the new generation of officials up to speed with these subjects technically, financially, and also strategically.
This government term must be one of accelerating ecological transition, with operational roadmaps next year to back up existing policies. There’s no time to lose.

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