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Local governance, energy efficiency, turf wars and “stuff”

May 23, 2015

Prior to the presidential elections in May 2014, as is always the case with any Ukrainian election, numerous approaches are made to this blog by election monitors, diplomats, journalists and NGOs, to meet and “have a chat” about what’s happening, who’s doing what, why and how, predictions, ramifications, and “stuff”.

Indeed any election campaign involving Odessa means your author gets to eat out for free almost daily on somebody else’s expenses, whilst for the most part, spending a few hours with erudite people (with perhaps the exception of some short term observers on occasion).

Last May, two such erudite observers happened to be two Swedish Diplomats.  One, the Swedish Ambassador for the European Partnership, the other, amongst other things, sitting loftily within the E5P – which concentrates on energy efficiency of public buildings, working with others like the EBRD to approve and fund energy efficiency projects.

Election campaign conversations over, and more general conversation regarding the situation in eastern Ukraine concluded, the question arose as to why Odessa, unlike several other regions, had made absolutely no approaches to the E5P regarding project approval and funding for energy efficiency.

Why indeed?

A few months passed to allow for the Rada elections to occur, and then your author went to see an old acquaintance, Alexie Goncharneko, then Chairman of the Odessa Regional Administration, now Chairman of the Local Government Committee in the Rada.  His answer was no different.  Why indeed?

The issue was delegated to another friend of your author, the incredibly bright (Microsoft Ukraine winner) Peter Obyhov who sits within the Odessa Regional Administration.  He and the leading lights in energy efficiency within the Region Administration would tackle the issue.

One of the numerous other Oblasts to have successfully deal with E5P is Lviv.  Within the Lviv City Administration sits another long term friend of your author, Alexander Kobzarev.  Alexander being an Odessa native headhunted by Lviv Mayor Andrii Sadovyi to sit in Lviv city Council some years ago.  An assistance balloon was sent up to Lviv via personal connections, for any help relating to the bureaucracy that could be given – Lviv had, after all, navigated all the hurdles several times on several E5P projects.  Unfortunately, due to non-disclosure clauses with the EBRD, the help was somewhat limited, though gladly given as far as it could be.

It also became apparent that there was somebody in Odessa that “knew the ropes” – technically at least (although never having applied), when it comes to dealing with the E5P system – unfortunately he sits in the Odessa City Administration – an administration that is not disposed to actively assist the regional administration.  Turf and management wars and all that.

Regardless, conversations occurred to which your author was party, regarding what projects to put forward to the E5P.  This at the turn of the year.  To be sure across the Oblast there are more public buildings in need of major energy efficiency upgrades than projects that could ever hoped to be financed.  Schools, hospitals, libraries, institutional buildings – you name it, all are energy inefficient – including the Oblast Administration building itself.

A decision was made, in the spirit of doing things a new way, not to put forward any old project to simply get some money as quickly as possible, but to take a more logical and analytical approach – as that’s what happens when a project is headed by an honest man with a computer programmers brain.

It was also agreed that transparency, not only with E5P should any project be approved, but also with the public was necessary to promote the new fragile ethos of “public accountability”.  This in itself would, and does, separate the Regional Administration from the still nefarious City Administration.

Things however, more slowly – particularly so when gathering information across an Oblast as large (and bureaucratic) as Odessa, thus requiring a decree to involuntarily submit the information being required.  That decree eventually came on 15th May 2015, signed by both Regional Governor and Chairman of the Regional Administration.

In the meantime, however, a public website has been taking shape with the information gathered thus far, as well as a description of the project  goals (of which not all can or will be dependent upon E5P finance).  Regionally induced energy saving pays dividends to the Regional Administration’s budget naturally, allowing saved treasure to be spent elsewhere.

Thus far some 3,600 of Odessa Oblast’s approximately 6000 public buildings have returned some information – physical parameters (m2/ft2) – area, volume, wall material, window material, types of light bulbs, etc. together with the consumption of resources for heating – both quantity and price.  All of this information will be made freely available on the website.  Environmental and energy NGOs will no longer have to guess, nor spend time attempting to collate such material.

The results from this endeavor will eventually lead to the most inefficient (although there are other considerations) of Odessa’s public buildings being subject to E5P applications – backed by scrupulously detailed statistics, costings, and savings projections – which is far better than the old political maximum of “if somebody’s offering you money, don’t wait to take it (and then steal half of it whilst wondering what to do with it)” that still runs amok in the City Administration – be that money nefarious or otherwise.

Naturally, should my Swedish diplomatic acquaintances return to Odessa, a meeting with the team now making progress with the lack of energy efficiency in Odessa is easily accomplished – or for that matter any other energy efficiency funding agency looking for projects to fund in Odessa/Ukraine.  All such interest and investment is welcomed.

If there be an underlying theme to this unfinished tale, it is that although things may not appear to change quickly, that does not mean that things aren’t changing.  Planning and preparation prevents p*ss poor performance (tedious and long-winded as it may be) – and if that planning and preparation is openly available to the public, progress (and thus the easing of unnecessary tensions) is there to be seen, as well as used by those with specific knowledge to further the (energy efficiency in this case) cause.

As an aside, to all the diplomats that ask whom else to see other than the usual suspect and myself when in Odessa – acquaint yourselves with Peter Obyhov – a quiet, unassuming, yet rising star.

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