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Smog in Vilnius, Source: Saulius Žiūra / vilnius.lt

Vilnius phases out use of coal and peat for heating

Vilnius phases out use of coal and peat for heating

The City Council’s ban will come into effect from June 2023, offering a transitional period to change the legislation and heating method

Judging by WHO guidelines, the air quality in Lithuania is considered moderately unsafe, with fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations exceeding the recommended maximum, especially in the summer (June to August) and winter (December to March). The main culprits are thermal power plants and vehicle emissions, but also a growing number of households that find burning coal and peat for heating cheaper than using gas or electricity.

Vilnius plagued by smog  

Both Vilnius and Kaunas, the country’s largest cities, have high levels of air pollution. Smog blanketing the capital city is a common sight on windless winter days, something that residents have become fed up with. Addressing the issue, the Vilnius City Council has decided to ban the burning of coal or peat briquettes in Vilnius from June 2023.

“This decision is absolutely unavoidable, because coal and peat are several times more polluting than biomass, and if we compared this type of heating with central heating, the impact on the environment would not be a few times but thousands of times greater. This not only affects the health of the resident, but also causes irreversible damage in the context of climate change. I hope that Vilnius will be the first, but not the last, city to adopt such a practice. After all, we must be aware of ourselves, and not just blindly follow the directives of the European Union,” says Valdas Benkunskas, Deputy Mayor of Vilnius, as quoted by the city website.

Compared to wood, burning coal releases almost 700 times more sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere, contributing to a surge in respiratory diseases and acid rain. It also releases 10 times more metals, which cause neurological damage and developmental disorders, and 2 times more nitrogen dioxide, which is toxic to the airway and the lungs. In addition, burning coal emits 1.3 times more smog-forming aerosol particles and carbon dioxide, which exacerbate the greenhouse effect.

Transitional period

The Council has long advised citizens to switch to less polluting heating options but, faced with lukewarm response saw the ban as a last resort. Nevertheless, it decided to give more time for the change of heating method and the preparation of the legal framework.

“The non-binding recommendations to change the heating method have been in force for more than a year now, but we can see that a large part of the residents has not followed the recommendations and has not adopted more environmentally friendly solutions in their households, so we have decided to give them time to prepare and have planned additional incentive measures on the part of the municipality,” Benkunskas explained.

Incentives for residents

In some cases, the residents will not need to replace their heating boilers, only the fuel itself, ditching coal and peat briquettes for biomass.

For those who choose a less polluting heating method, the state offers various reimbursement mechanisms. The Environmental Projects Management Agency (EPMA) will cover 50 percent of the costs for those who opt to replace their fossil-fuel boilers with renewable energy installations. The rebate will even reach 85 percent for poor residents. Meanwhile, people wishing to connect to district heating networks can get a 50 percent reimbursement by applying to EPMA.

The Vilnius City Municipality, in turn, is mulling a further 15 percent cost reduction under each reimbursement programme. The municipal scheme, if approved, could enter into force in 2022, meaning a no-cost transition for low-income residents.

The Vilnius City Municipality Administration will also replace the heating stoves in city-owned social housing properties with installations using renewable energy sources.

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