on renewable energy sources
Plus, 20 November 2009
Tina Birbili's agenda as the country's first minister for the environment,
energy and climate change includes plans for Athens that have been
heard in the past but which she seems determined to carry out - opening
up the seafront, creating more pedestrian walkways and continuing the
program of unifying the city's archaeological sites.
In this interview, she also talks about plans for developing renewable
energy sources and restricting illegal construction on the islands
as some of her ministry's priorities.
What can be done to change Athens?
We have to take action in areas we believe are important. The seafront
has to be connected to the city itself and provide opportunities for
recreation. Another way to change things is to provide support for
activities within the city, with a reduction in traffic, connecting
the archaeological sites but also with narrow pedestrian streets and
cycle paths leading to wider pedestrian streets. The city center should
be for walking.
Concerns have been voiced about having the portfolios
for the environment and energy under the same roof.
At first that also concerned me but it is the trend in Europe. We can't
meet our targets for 20-20-20 [20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas
emissions, 20 percent increase in energy efficiency and in renewable
energy sources (RES) as percentage of total energy production] by 2020
if we don't approach issues of energy and climate change as part of
How will you get the question of RES off the ground?
It is a challenge for the government and myself personally. We will
be reviewing the entire legislative framework; We have to simplify
procedures and reduce the amount of time needed to make an investment.
We will make some small changes to the zoning framework for RES and
look at applications on a case-by-case basis.
Many are concerned about the effect of wind farms
on the landscape in protected areas.
First of all, no development is allowed in the core areas of Natura
regions. I understand islanders' concerns about their landscape. Nevertheless,
I think wind turbines are beautiful, an evolution of wind- mills. It
is just a question of scale. We will have to see just where and how
many wind turbines will be sited on each island. But do we want clean
energy for our islands from wind farms or do we want to keep internal
Isn't it utopian to talk about a "green" Public
Power Corporation, the biggest polluter in Greece?
We are not talking about a "green" PPC but one that can be both profitable
and clean. PPC has to play a large part in the development of RES.
We are waiting for proposals from its subsidiary, PPC Renewables.
Secondly, we have to have cleaner lignite-burning power plants through
a major modernization program. As a society, we can't have PPC paying
for carbon emissions and not for cleaner power plants.
There are funds for PPC investments; the question is how to use them.
I want to reiterate the government's commitment to freezing public
utility costs for a year. Electricity bills have to reflect the real
There is money for the environment and for energy. What is needed is
an overall political decision regarding where to focus development
through the National Strategic Reference Framework (ESPA) and the Cohesion
Fund. The ESPA program is behind schedule but we have begun to set
priorities. We are also restricted by the situation left by the previous
government, such as the fact that the Thessaloniki metro expansion
has been included in funding for RES. It is an important project but
has nothing to do with RES.
We also want the program for Environmental Protection and Sustainable
Development (ETERPS) to become a major green fund exclusively for environmental
priorities under a new principle - absolute transparency about where
the money goes.
How can you convince businesses not to pollute
when it's cheaper for them to pay the fines than to change their methods?
That is a difficult issue and has to do with the mentality of the nation.
We have upgraded the environment inspectors from a service to a general
secretariat. It is understaffed, a problem throughout the public sector,
but there is also the political will to deal with cases of unrestricted
pollution without the imposition of fines.
Fines have been imposed but not collected. That has to end. One of
the [inspectorate's] first tasks will be to study the Asopos River
diversion to see how fines can be collected and pollution restricted.
We want to prevent pollution before it occurs, and, failing that, to
restore the environment to its original state, we will begin a dialogue
shortly with industries and give those that pollute the opportunity
Sustainable development means economic growth hand in hand with environmental
protection and social cohesion. If an industry wants to be competitive
and have a future so that it can keep its staff, it will have to adapt
to the new conditions.
What will you do about the spread of construction?
We have to see how far we can curb the unrestricted spread of towns.
We can't allow the space between towns on islands to be completely
built over. And we have committed ourselves to reviewing the entire
Regulatory Plan for Athens.
What about the previous government's tourism zoning
We have promised to present a new one for debate. We already have a
working group on this issue and are studying the views of different
Does the environment need our protection?
Absolutely. The environment is up to us - first of all, the citizens,
and then the state. There has to be a grassroots environmental movement
to guide political choices.
The people seem to be disillusioned about political
That's why they have to take matters into their own hands.