The Slovenia Times

Biomass boiler ban shelved

Instead of banning biomass boilers in new buildings, the government now plans to subsidise replacement of old furnaces. Photo: Aljoša Rehar/STA

The Slovenian government has shelved a proposed ban on the installation of biomass boilers in new homes after facing a severe backlash fanned by the opposition, opting instead for subsidies to replace obsolete boilers in existing homes.

"We will salvage clean air through the replacement of 430,000 old furnaces," Prime Minister Robert Golob told parliament on 29 January, after weeks of accusations by the opposition that the government is taking away the cheapest and most popular fuel Slovenians use to heat their homes.

The controversy refers to a provision of a reform energy bill that would ban biomass and gas boilers in new buildings and renovations that require a building permit if such homes are in dense urbanised areas.

New Slovenia, a small opposition party, latched on to the proposed ban as evidence of a green transition gone wrong that will cost people dearly, framing it as part of the government's misguided focus on solar at the expense of other renewable sources of energy.

"The government wants to strip people of the freedom of choice and lead the country towards accelerated forced solarisation," New Slovenia deputy Janez Žakelj said in parliament.

Government officials spent weeks in vain convincing the public that the ban would have affected no more than 500 new homes per year while everyone else would be free to continue burning wood as the gradual transition to cleaner sources unfolds.

Just a day after Golob announced the plan was being abandoned, the government put additional funding towards a scheme under which almost €200 million will be available for the replacement of old boilers that are more efficient and cleaner.

Political fallout continues

Despite the backtracking, the political fallout of the proposed ban is likely to be significant. New Slovenia shows no sign of letting go, having made opposition to the biomass ban a totemic issue in the run-up to the European Parliament elections that appears to have struck a chord with voters.

Environment, Climate and Energy Minister Bojan Kumer has even described New Slovenia's framing of the issue as "an overture to the election campaign by far-right parties".

And indeed, as soon as the ban was shelved New Slovenia requested a consultative referendum on the energy bill. While it is unlikely to be confirmed in parliament, where a majority is required to call a referendum, it will keep the issue on the political agenda for weeks to come and well into the election campaign.

Several commentators have accused the party of sacrificing cleaner air for political gain, even as they acknowledged that the government's proposal was not well thought-out and that communication was poor after it was caught wrong-footed by the opposition's campaign.

Air qualify neglected

It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 biomass boilers in the country that are obsolete and not up to modern standards. The newspaper Dnevnik has described them as "mini incinerators" into which people throw everything, including things that should not be burnt.

Air quality data by the Environment Agency indicate that biomass boilers are the main source of PM2.5 particulate emissions, which are not as strictly regulated as PM10 emissions but have been shown to be a major cause of respiratory disease.

The National Institute of Public Health recently issued a stark warning that burning biomass is causing emissions of many different carcinogenic compounds, not just particulates.

Alas, the air quality aspect of the proposed measure has been neglected amidst the political turmoil.


More from Energy