NAXOS, Greece — On the windswept western tip of considered one of Greece’s largest islands, an unassuming stone constructing above the Aegean Sea has change into an unlikely outpost on this nation’s battle towards local weather change.
Camouflaged inside is a brand new energy station linked to an 180-mile undersea electrical energy cable that ties Naxos to a chain of different breezy trip playgrounds, permitting the islands to ditch their oil-burning turbines for renewable energy from Greece’s ample wind and solar.
Close by islands have change into zero-carbon laboratories for firms like Volkswagen to fan out electrical vehicles and wire communities for clear vitality. Adjustments are underway on the mainland too, the place soiled lignite coal mines that powered Greece for many years are being fast-tracked for closure.
The push for a transition to scrub vitality would appear a herculean process for Greece, a rustic of round 10 million that just lately emerged from a devastating decade-long debt disaster and nonetheless leans closely on fossil fuels for energy.
However because the European Union seeks to be a global leader within the race to cease local weather change, Greece is betting that turning towards a carbon-free future can reshape its financial future.
“The expansion of the financial system is inextricably tied to creating ourselves as vitality impartial as we are able to,” mentioned Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a conservative who took workplace in 2019 vowing to rebuild Greece, partially based mostly on an environmental agenda.
“Greece is usually a paradigm of how vitality transition and local weather motion can create jobs and sustainable progress,” he mentioned in an interview.
Whether or not Greece succeeds issues. As wealthier European nations like Norway and Denmark make strides re-engineering their economies to be extra local weather pleasant, Greece affords a check case of whether or not — and the way successfully — Europe’s poorer states can flip away from fossil fuels whereas offering buffers for these threatened by the change.
The transformation is important and strategic. Greece’s financial system is forecast to rebound 6.1 % this yr after shrinking by practically 10 % throughout the pandemic and by 1 / 4 throughout the debt disaster. However the authorities nonetheless wants to draw billions in clean-energy investments to assist sort out its lingering mountain of debt and a 14 % unemployment fee, and to construct a extra stable basis for future progress.
Greece is getting a powerful financial boost to underwrite these efforts: 30 billion euros (practically $35 billion) — equal to a fifth of Greece’s financial system — from a European Union recovery fund designed to energy a rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.
The shift has already raised tensions. Villages are attempting to dam wind generators, arguing they are going to flip away vacationers — Greece’s principal supply of revenue. Residents are agitating over the lack of mining jobs. And a spike within the value of pure fuel, a gasoline getting used to bridge the swap from oil to renewable vitality, is hitting the poorest households, forcing the federal government to subsidize prices.
But the bruising toll of local weather change is creating urgency. This summer time Greece was ravaged by the worst wildfires in years, as temperatures reached 46 levels Celsius, or 115 levels Fahrenheit. Houses have been razed and 1000’s of individuals have been displaced. Nearly no nook of Europe was untouched by excessive climate, be it hearth, flood or warmth.
The underwater cable plugged into Naxos is central to Greece’s strategy to draw important renewable vitality investments. The thought is to construct Greece’s incomplete infrastructure to cycle extra photo voltaic and wind energy by means of the nationwide grid. Greece goals to supply 60 % of its energy from renewable vitality sources by 2030 and be climate neutral by 2050.
BlackRock, Quantum Power Companions and Fortress Funding Group have mentioned they see a possible bonanza in investing in inexperienced improvement right here. American, Chinese language and European firms are pitching wind and photo voltaic parks, hydroelectric energy installations and hydrogen and battery tasks to retailer renewable vitality.
The shift has been a very long time coming. Whereas generators and photo voltaic panels are scattered throughout the nation, Greece clung to grease and lignite coal for many years as vested Greek oil industry interests thwarted change. Greek islands used oil-burning energy turbines that price billions to run and spewed over 2.8 million tons of carbon a yr. Buyers have been spooked by impenetrable forms and waits of as much as 10 years for licenses to construct wind or photo voltaic farms — one thing the federal government has vowed to streamline.
Round half of Greece’s vitality was nonetheless fueled by petroleum merchandise in 2017. However renewable vitality and imported pure fuel are actually grabbing a greater share.
The undersea cable will stitch together Greece’s most popular tourism islands, together with Mykonos and Santorini, linking them to the mainland energy grid for the primary time and greater than quadrupling their vitality capability, mentioned Nikos Margoutas, a undertaking supervisor for the state utility operator overseeing the shift. One other cable described because the world’s longest will finally join the mainland and Crete, Greece’s largest island and the one with essentially the most promise for photo voltaic and wind vitality.
On a latest afternoon, the hair-raising sound of high-voltage electrical energy crackled above a howling wind outdoors the Naxos substation, which was hidden contained in the specially-designed stone home in order to not be an eyesore for vacationers.
“We’re laying the groundwork for Greece’s inexperienced future,” mentioned Mr. Margoutas, sweeping his arm towards the azure expanse of the Aegean.
The cable has already improved life on the island in a single notable means. For years, blackouts have been routine, slicing the lighting on the iconic Temple of Apollo, forcing eating places to throw out refrigerated octopus and stopping holidaymakers from charging their cellphones.
For the reason that cable arrived, there have been no blackouts.
“It was romantic — you can see the celebrities,” recalled Dimitris Lianos, Naxos’s mayor. “But it surely was an enormous downside for companies and guests.”
A parallel program goals to show round 20 small islands into zero-emission testing grounds for firms partnering with the Greek authorities.
Volkswagen is changing vehicles and public transportation on the island of Astypalaia, with electrical autos powered by photo voltaic vitality sources that it’s putting in. On Halki, an island of solely 300 residents, the French vitality big Vinci is erecting photovoltaic fields to energy avenue lighting, houses and companies at low or no price.
But for all the advantages of a inexperienced vitality transformation, a tangle of issues stays.
Environmental teams say the federal government is cleansing up with one hand while polluting with the other.
They cite huge pure fuel exploration tasks going down within the Ionian Sea close to Crete, Corfu and different islands, which Mr. Mitsotakis has defended as needed to acquire a useful resource important to the clear vitality transition. New licenses have been granted to Exxon Mobil, Complete and Hellenic Petroleum throughout the monetary disaster as Greece confronted staggering money owed. Some potential drilling grounds close to Turkey have ignited geopolitical tensions.
Others are sad with the concept of mammoth wind generators disfiguring the panorama that attracts tourism — the one exercise that Greece does effectively. Seven folks have been reportedly harm final month on Tinos island — identified in Greek mythology as dwelling to the god of the winds due to its breezes — after police clashed with protesters making an attempt to dam a truck from carrying a large wind turbine blade up a mountain.
The backlash on the islands has change into so stormy that officers are pondering of putting in floating generators and photo voltaic platforms within the sea.
“The federal government can’t simply are available in with hubris and say, ‘We’ve buyers and we’re entering into,’” mentioned Nikos Charalambides, the pinnacle of Greenpeace Greece, which helps the strikes towards renewable vitality however says residents aren’t being adequately consulted.
On the mainland, over 8,000 mining jobs are threatened by Mr. Mitsotakis’s plans to shut all however considered one of Greece’s 14 lignite coal-fueled energy turbines items by 2023. In response, the federal government has vowed to rework the hardest-hit areas, together with Western Macedonia and Megalopolis, a coal city within the Peloponnese, into websites the place new varieties of work would emerge.
The plans are ambitious, calling for carbon-neutral farming, photovoltaic fields, sustainable tourism and entrepreneurial start-up campuses that will theoretically modernize Greece — and create as much as 200,000 new jobs in vitality and the setting.
Critics are skeptical. On the similar time, Greeks perceive that the nation has no alternative however to maneuver ahead, mentioned Mr. Charalambides of Greenpeace.
“This is a chance for the financial system and society to create new jobs and a brand new perspective,” he mentioned.
“Greece has been so depleted by the monetary disaster, and so inefficient as a state,” he added. “If the inexperienced vitality transition works right here, there’s nowhere in Europe the place it might’t work.”
Niki Kitsantoniscontributed reporting.
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/29/enterprise/greece-green-energy-climate-eu.html | Greece Pushes Inexperienced Power Transformation to Combat Local weather Change