The Municipality of Velenje is at a significant crossroads, because there is an extremely difficult restructuring period ahead of us which, despite the many challenges, we are also looking forward to, as we see it as an opportunity to develop and plan the future of the city in accordance with new global guidelines. We want to be ready to start this journey with projects, programmes and measures which will allow us to carry out a high-quality and just restructuring of the region. The first step on this path was taken with last year’s conference Welcome, Future – Going Green for a Better Quality of Life. We met with representatives of European countries and regions and learned about experiences from abroad regarding the preparation of legislation on regional restructuring and the provision of financial resources and support within the framework of a just transition.
This year, too, in September, i.e., the month when Velenje celebrates its birthday, we will be hosting an international conference WELCOME FUTURE which will take place on 21 September 2022. The theme of this year’s international conference is the TRANSFORMATION OF DISTRICT HEATING SYSTEMS IN EUROPE. The official start is planned for 10 o’clock. Representatives of the European Commission, the European Investment Bank, competent ministries, and representatives of twin cities from the EU and the Balkans are invited to the conference, which will take place live and online. The event is intended for various stakeholders in our valley and other regions that are in the process of a just transition.
In the process of restructuring, we must establish conditions for pleasant living in the local community, which not only will motivate citizens to stay in the region, but will also motivate others to return owing to the high level of services and opportunities provided. We are in a situation where we have to switch to a clean source of energy within ten years. Thus, we are interested in the good practices and experiences of other European cities. It is necessary, as soon as possible, to define investments and measures that will prioritise the restructuring of the district heating system in the Šalek Valley from the Just Transition Fund. Since the Municipality of Velenje strives for an integrated green transition, we were also selected to be one of 100 climate-neutral cities under the EU Mission.
Green transformation of the district heating system in the Šalek valley
The future of the district heating system in the Šalek Valley lies in the green transformation and diversification of sources.
he coal phaseout in the Šalek Valley, which according to the state and EU guidelines is planned to take place by 2033, requires the transformation of one of the largest district heating systems supplying heat to 40,000 customers. The system was set up in 1959 as the first of such systems in the former Yugoslavia and played a key role in the environmental rehabilitation of the Šalek Valley. Since we want to maintain clean air in the future, too, the only appropriate solution is to maintain an all-encompassing district heating system.
It will be necessary to introduce changes at the level of the local community, because according to statistics, heat consumption in the Šalek Valley is on average twice that of other cities. We will have to rehabilitate the buildings and reduce the consumption of thermal energy by at least 30% in the next five years.
Together with the Velenje Public Utility Company, we have prepared an analysis of the remote system, which will serve as a guide in selecting the most optimal heat source. The first phase envisages the lowering of the temperature regime, which will enable us to include renewable energy sources in the system. The next phase is the renovation of the remote network.
We signed an agreement with the company ELES on closer cooperation and integration of the power, heating and cooling sectors in the light of the green transition. With their experience and cross-sector cooperation, we will more easily identify projects that will contribute to a faster and better transformation of the district heating system.
The transformation of the remote system will require huge financial resources, according to the first estimates more than 130 million euros. It is important that the state, too, prioritises the project in terms of funding. Apart from that, the new system must be economically and environmentally efficient, decentralised and completely independent of coal.
The Climate Change Fund of the Republic of Slovenia could be the systemic funding source, both for the renewal of the existing system and the establishment of alternative sources. The Fund receives more than 100 million euros annually from the Šalek Valley through the purchase of emission coupons.
The implementation of projects for the green transformation of the Šalek Valley district heating system has been set to comprise three phases until 2035 (1st phase until 2026), and is based on the dispersion of production sources. The first part of the 1st phase covers the transition of district heating to renewable energy sources in combination with high-voltage electrode boilers. The rough value is 5 million euros, and the project is expected to be completed by 2024. The second part of the 1st phase to be completed by 2026 includes the construction of an own production source based on renewable energy sources (20–30 MW) to cover the annual operating regime and part of the winter regime, as well as the renovation of the distribution system, which will enable the transition to a lower temperature regime.
Possible sources: biomass-powered boiler plant, solar collectors, electric boilers, geothermal source, a large heat pump for waste pit water and a facility for the thermal treatment of non-hazardous waste from the central sewage treatment plant.
Industrial and educational park – CENTER OF THE FUTURE (former power plant)
The former power plant building has been unexploited and left to decay for a long time. However, it is an architectural gem within the industrial built heritage. We want to rehabilitate the former power plant building as soon as possible and turn it into an industrial and educational park – the Centre of the Future. Once a power generator, it would become a generator of highly educated human resources, and highly successful innovations in the field of the economy, renewable energy sources and environmental protection. The facility is owned by the Velenje Coal Mine. However, in the framework of the regional restructuring endeavours, it is crucial that strategically important industrial facilities be transferred to the local community, which will take care of further development.
The Centre of the Future will steer the restructuring of many jobs upon the closing of the coal mine and the creation of new jobs and a new future for everyone involved in the restructuring system.
The innovation ecosystem will represent a supportive and inclusive environment that envisages the cooperation of companies with suppliers, customers, competition, universities, scientific research organisations, institutes and other public and private organisations. It is a platform environment encouraging and connecting cooperation aimed at the correct circulation of knowledge in order to implement innovation programmes in the fields of the economy, the academic and research sphere, the public sector and the general public.
The project is in the conceptual design preparation phase. The programmes will be based on three pillars: environment, circular economy and education. The preparation of the project’s content is envisaged for 2022, while the preparation of project and investment documentation is envisaged for 2023.
Timeline: by the end of 2027
Estimated investment value: EUR 47 million
Hydrogen technologies in emission-free transport and the decarbonised power sector for green Velenje
The project is aimed at carrying out investments in the infrastructure for the application of hydrogen technologies in the greater area of the Savinja-Šalek Region, and is focused on establishing a complete cycle of production and application with the primary (initial) use of hydrogen as a propellant in public (emission-free) passenger transport.
The project consists of three key elements:
- modernisation and extension of the existing infrastructure for the production and storage of hydrogen,
- construction of a hydrogen filling station for fuel cell vehicles (FCV) and
- purchase of FCV, category M3, for transporting people in public transport.
It is also necessary to build infrastructure and develop technology for the production of hydrogen for use in public passenger transport and other green projects within public facilities or services. The aim of the project is to establish urban and intercity public transport services with zero-emission vehicles in the more general context of the development and implementation of a long-term sustainable system for the production and application of hydrogen as an alternative vector of energy transition in the Savinja-Šalek Region and the Republic of Slovenia. The project pursues the goals of reinforcing Green Europe.
We expect the competent ministries to support the implementation of the project, which will enable the successful restructuring of the region, both from the financial and administrative aspect (e.g. funding of the project from the Climate Change Fund of the Republic of Slovenia).
Timeline: Phase 1 – modernisation and expansion of the existing hydrogen production and storage infrastructure two years after the closure of the financial structure of the project; implementation in 2027.
Estimated investment value: EUR 15 million
Saša industry and technology park Velenje ("TecHub i4.0")
One of the most important projects in the framework of the restructuring process is the construction of a 5,000 m² Industry and Technology Park in the Stara Vas Commercial Area which will extend over three floors. The park will retain the rapidly growing technology companies in the region and attract new companies from the surrounding area.
The TecHub i4.0 project constitutes a multi-level extension of the activities which are already being implemented under the auspices of the SAŠA start-up incubator in the region, and will include the expansion of the programmes in terms of support to the fields of advanced industrial incubation and coworking; the possibility of obtaining “acceleration” capital for incubated companies; extension of spatial capacities, opening new dislocated coworking units in the municipalities of Nazarje and Ljubno and a greater degree of integration into the emerging development environment of the SAŠA region.
The Industry and Technology Park Velenje will allow us to establish a new and innovative development business environment, which, in the long term, will ensure the creation of new technological companies, new jobs and the restructuring of the economy from traditional economic sectors to economic sectors with higher added values. We also have plans to set up evolutionary prototyping production premises for Industry 4.0 to be supported by an accompanying programme, specialised workshops, mentors and connecting industrial corporations with start-up companies.
Timeline: by the end of 2024
Estimated investment value: in 2022 approx. EUR 200,000 for the project and investment documentation, in 2023 and 2024 approx. EUR 6 million for the investment (co-funding of the investment: Just Transition Fund)
Expansion of the Stara vas commercial area
The expansion of the Stara Vas Commercial Area will make a significant contribution to the economic development of the Šalek Valley.
The Stara Vas Commercial Area, which is located between Lake Velenje and the planned route of the third development axis expressway, is a central commercial area in Velenje with more than 20 hectares.
There are another 24,000 m² of land available in the area. We want to expand the Stara Vas Commercial Area so around 80,000 m² of land will be available for construction (the western part of the area).
We have already sold most of the land in the Stara Vas Commercial Area: 13,000 m² was purchased by the pharmaceutical company Vonpharma SI, 2,300 m² by the fast-growing company Malinca from Velenje, and 4,700 m² by the company TIKI, which will have a development department for heat pumps in the area. We have dedicated 3,000 m² to the construction of the Industry and Technology Park Velenje (“TecHub i4.0), which will be intended primarily for production-oriented young companies. In addition, several new investors have expressed their interest in purchasing the land in the Commercial Area.
Two companies (S-Tech, TVK) with a total of 41 employees operate in the commercial area. Four companies have started construction works, and one company is still in the process of obtaining the necessary documentation. The majority of investments are expected to be completed in 2023/2024.
Timeline: by June 2024
Estimated value of the investment: around EUR 186,000 for the purchase of the land and obtaining project and investment documentation in 2022; for site development costs EUR 1,180,000 and EUR 63,550 in 2023 and 2024, respectively. Total: EUR 1,429,550. We plan to obtain part of these funds from the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology.