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Interview with Lazaros Maloutas, Mayor of Kozani, Greece
Lazaros Maloutas was born in 1956 in Kozani. Mrs. Maloutas was elected as a Mayor of Municipality of Kozani in 2019, for second time. At first, the citizens elected him in the 2010 elections.
The population of Kozani is over 70,000 people. Photo by Kozani Municipality
Mayor Maloutas, first of all, congratulations on being re-elected as mayor! Please describe the beautiful Municipality of Kozani in a few sentences.
Thank you very much, the trust shown to me by my fellow citizens in electing me for the second time as a Mayor of Kozani was a great honor. I have had the opportunity to govern for about 15 months the Kapodistrian Municipality of Kozani between 2009 and 2010 and from January 2011 to be the first mayor of the new Kallikratician Municipality of Kozani.
The Municipality of Kozani is characterized by its worthy of mention energy features, as within its administrative district are currently installed 7 lignite power plants, hydroelectric plants and wind farms. At the same time, it is surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes while also boasting three artificial lakes at the southern part, as well as natural areas of particular geological interest.
The municipality of Kozani is a historical place, rich in archaeological sites, monuments and artifacts, many of them are located in Aiani, the Municipality’s cultural capital, within its exceptional archeological museum.
Kozani’s historic and remarkable Municipal Library, is of outmost importance as it highlights the contribution of our community to the Modern Greek Enlightenment period. Also, there is a number of museums, such as the Folklore Museum, which houses historical exhibits of modern times.
Our area has a rich primary sector which is based on the cultivation of potatoes but also on the ever-increasing production of aromatic-therapeutic cultivations such as yolk, lavender and tea.
Furthermore, Kozani is the seat of the University of Western Macedonia and its academic community and it hosts most of the educational and research activities of the institution.
The municipality’s geopolitical position is pivotal as it constitutes a “natural” hub in the Southwestern Balkans, as the Egnatia Highway crosses an area of 50 km with its two vertical motorway axes leading to Skopje and Albania.
It is important to mention some pioneering projects of the local government, such as the Kozani’s Zone of Active Urban Design, system of district heating, as well as the Waste Management Company at the regional level, which is a good practice case study for other regions in Greece.
Last but not least, of special importance is the geomorphology of our area, with tectonic and geological characteristics which are unique in Europe. Also, the settlements of our Municipality are installed in an altitude range between 300 and 1.000 meters over the sea level.
Your new term as a mayor has started with a huge challenge – the Greek government has announced that the coal plants in the country will be permanently closed by 2028. As we know the development of Western Macedonia region and Kozani has been based on coal mining for the last 50 years. What actions do you plan to take?
I have to agree that the beginning is always the hardest, but due to my previous experience, which I gained as Mayor, I have a valuable asset for my new tasks. We all knew that lignite, as a non-renewable natural resource, would eventually run out.
For this reason, we undertook some important initiatives with the aim to contribute to a smoother transition towards a clean energy regime. Some of our ideas include the Strategic Plan for the Agricultural Policy, the Strategic Plan for the Branding & Marketing of Kozani, the Covenant of Mayors for the Sustainable Development, an ambitious initiative of European Commission that gives the lead to Europe’s pioneering cities to mitigate climate change, and much more.
Furthermore, a number of flagship projects have also begun development, such as the construction of the new Municipal Library, the planning of the utilization of the energy character of the Municipality, new projects that would transform the area as a tourist attraction, the planning of the Technopolis- a modern museum for technology- and some municipal buildings with a bioclimatic design using RES.
Meanwhile, we run some projects for the development of Municipal assets and the boosting of the local economy. However, the Government's announcements about the closure of all coal-fired plants by 2028 - the deadline of those which are located our region is even sooner, 2023- set a stringent deadline which is expected to affect the wider region of Western Macedonia.
My colleagues and I have already worked systematically to submit our proposal for the development of the region to the Governmental bodies which are in charge of drafting the Master Plan for the energy transition. Our belief is that our proposal will give a whole new perspective on the development of our Municipality.
Our plan is based on the promotion and utilization of all the comparative advantages of the region, the enhancing of its energy character and its establishment as a National Pole of Innovation and Sustainable Development.
Our aim is to take measures in order to make the area attractive for direct investments. For that reason, we are going to launch a Business Park which could serve as an infrastructure for innovative projects in the digital sector and energy, and we will develop a Circular Economy Park, utilizing our experience in waste management.
I also have to mention the promotion of a series of actions concerning the urban environment in order to improve the living spaces, so that both old and new residents can live and work safely. Our aim is to bring new people and companies to Kozani, in order to boost local development.
Please say in real parameters, do you think that Kozani is prepared and ready for the transition to clean energy. What paths and steps must be followed in order to implement this goal and when?
The truth is that the municipalities in Western Macedonia were not prepared for the transition to a clean energy regime.
However, there is a number of well-defined projects which we have already included in our operational planning for the post-lignite period. At the same time, there are also important projects, such as supplying thermal heating with energy from an alternative power supply, which takes a long time for its development.
To be clear, I would like to inform you that for the sustainability and continuation of the operation of district heating, it is crucial to be clarified by the Ministry the exact timeline for the substitution of power supply, i.e. natural gas connectivity, as well as PPC’s intentions concerning its cooperation with local authorities of the region about developing power and thermal units.
Furthermore, it has to be determined the financial mechanism through which our operational programme will be financed. It is of utmost importance that these actions to be taken immediately in order to accelerate and implement our projects, due to the bureaucratic hurdles facing the public administration in general.
Taking these facts into consideration, it is obvious that the timetable for full dismantling of power plants by 2023, it is practically impossible. For our part, we are in an open channel of communication with the government, we have clear views and realistic proposals and we demand immediate and clear answers.
From our part, we are trying to have a fruitful dialogue with the governmental authorities as we have a robust vision and realistic planning in order to complete our goal.
Please, share other strategic points on your list to do. How do you plan to finance them?
In the city of Kozani lives a great portion of the young people of the region of Western Macedonia. Our aim is to make the Municipality of Kozani an area that will be characterized by a youth-friendly environment and policies in education, specialization, experience, research and innovation and cutting-edge technologies.
This strategy is based on three pillars:
- The first pillar concerns the utilization of every opportunity in order for our local community face effectively the challenges of the transition to a new production and development model. One of our goals is to adequately identify the direction of this transition, with the aim to develop the quality of life of our residents and at the same time to create all these conditions that will help our community to blossom as well as creating new employment opportunities in the upcoming years. We do want a Municipality that will gradually incorporate applications of new technologies in the field of clean energy.
- The second pillar is the adoption of sustainable management policies for natural resources, which will contribute to the recovery of the environment, policies that will be innovative in energy efficiency and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions contributing to the development of RES with new technologies.
- The third pillar is the immediate digital transformation of the local economy and administration, in order to contribute to the leading efforts of the business and educational community. At the same time, we seek to diminish the digital divide.
Based on these pillars, our strategy focuses on interventions that will transform the image and function of the municipality in an innovative way. We have already drafted an operational plan for the digital transition of the Municipality of Kozani and we are launching interesting projects in order to welcome young scientists and investments.
At the same time, we are preparing a series of projects, which will make the area a pole of sustainable development and innovation on a national scale. Such projects are Technopolis, an energy student camp, a model bioclimatic park, plus all the above-mentioned projects.
Furthermore, the foundation of modern technical vocational schools and new university departments, which will provide the necessary support to young people, will play a crucial role in all this.
Project funding is a tough issue, which is of great concern. The Greek Government has already announced additional resources mainly from the utilization of the current and the next programme of European Structural Funds, especially our NSRF.
These resources, combined with the funds of the European Just Transition Mechanism, along with InvestEU funds and EIB’s public sector facility, create an allocation of approximately 4 billion euros about Greece.
I would also like to point out that we will claim private funding and direct investments, which can contribute to the implementation of our ambitious programme.
How do you evaluate the initiative of a unified platform for European municipalities and its main goal to keep European citizens informed about what is taking place in the European Union? How can the portal be useful to you and to the citizens of Kozani?
I believe in the future of a united Europe and in the perspective of common actions, common initiatives and a common path that we must develop and expand in the future.
In this context, all those actions and infrastructures that ensure equal information, equal access opportunities and equal development opportunities for all citizens of Europe, finds me completely agreed and a strong supporter of their implementation.
We find such a unified platform very interesting for European municipalities, especially for ones like ours. We have already entered a transitional period, in which we are obliged to pave the way and take the appropriate decisions and initiatives. As a result, we do need both information and technical help and new tools in order to maximize our experience and be ready to shape the future we are envisioning.
What will be your main goals and initiatives you are planning to develop in the near future to make Kozani a better place to live in?
As mentioned above, our strategic plan includes projects and actions aimed at highlighting the Municipality of Kozani as a strong economic pole of development, innovation and environmental sustainability, capable to support the entire region on its transition to a clean energy regime.
Our main goal is to promote projects that will contribute to the transformation of Kozani into a “Smart City” with modern infrastructure, efficient and friendly services to all its inhabitants - with participatory processes and innovative policies, a sustainable and functional urban environment, attractive to residents and visitors, with a sophisticated traffic management that will promote movement, a suitable environment for entrepreneurship and for the creation of new sustainable jobs.
For that reason, we do undertake initiatives and support collaborations, in order for Kozani to become a Center for Management and Entrepreneurship, with an emphasis on the Circular Economy, sustainable agricultural development with innovative cultivations. In addition, our aim is to make Kozani a Shopping and Transportation hub, not only for the region but also for the broaden region of Western Balkans.
We already have many projects to present from those we have had implemented in the energy sector. At the same time, we are planning additional ones whose purpose is to strengthen the energy character of the Municipality and make Kozani a center for clean energy production, green energy applications and energy efficiency.
An interesting part of our planning, such as the Business Innovation Park, concerns the cooperation between Municipality and the academic community and research institutions of the region as well as with the private sector. Kozani, as the seat of the University of Western Macedonia, with these specific initiatives aims to become a Center for Education, Science, Research and Innovation.
A main strategic objective is to further develop the digital networks and the resulting services, in that way that our Municipality shape the transition process towards to a cutting-edge technology economic landscape, characterized by:
- Digital Transformation, by making local governance more transparent, participatory and effective.
- Digital Social Innovation, by supporting entrepreneurship and promoting the digital economy.
- Digital Empowerment, by creating quality jobs throughout the Municipality, thus helping to combat any kind of inequality.
Kozani has a rich historical heritage and folklore tradition. For that reason, the new Municipal Library, our people, as well as all other cultural assets, will all have a leading role in making Kozani an international destination and a cultural capital.
It is our main task to resurrect the local economy, to make our municipality a better place to live in, with a sustainable environment and developed infrastructures. We are here to transform our Municipality in a safe urban environment for all its citizens and for their families.
To find out more about Kozani, visit the profile of the municipality.
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