The Expert Mission with Fundación Asturiana de la Energía (FAEN), Spain was intensive and focused on key strategic issues in the region. The Energy Transition away from coal in the region is dramatic and moving much faster than policy makers and the broader economy expected. With the closure of coal mines and coal fired power plants already confirmed or planned in the coming 12-24 months (5-6 years ahead of schedule), the region must adapt and plan for a very different future. This is particularly challenging given the significant level of heavy industry in the region (steel, paper, cement etc.) which have specific power demands. The region's response to this issue has been to establish a series of sectoral/thematic round tables, focused on the energy transition, involving the Government, employers, trade unions, sector experts and stakeholders etc. Critically, FAEN has been put at the centre of many of these round tables. This means that FAEN has the potential to strongly inform and influence future energy strategy in the region – an ideal role for a regional agency. Somewhat uniquely for an energy agency, FAEN has a strong involvement with industry, which is a necessity given the dominance of industry in the regional economy.
The team of 12 within FAEN has very strong technical experience, operate on a very professional basis and provide a range of services (at a project and strategic level) within the region. The focus of the Expert Mission, as it evolved, was on enhancing their market faciliation skills and how to scale up rapid investment. Using tools developed through the ManagEnergy master classes, the team worked on stakeholder mapping approaches which might be useful in the facilitation of the energy transition round tables. Project development assistance funds via ELENA were reviewed and case studies presented with the view of aggregation of a pipleline of projects and initiatives which will emerge from the round tables. Furthermore, financial instruments such as Guarantee Funds were considered in the final day of the Mission. The opportunity to meet with relevant stakeholders (Director General for energy, Trade Unions, Coal industry sector) highlighted that the fundamental issue for all is the uncertainty regarding future energy supply. Solutions and plans need to be put in place quickly to enable investment to flow into these new areas. It is clear that the market forces are moving much faster than policy makers anticipated – it will be a challenge to catch up.
Opportunities for collaboration on the Just Transition between Asturias and Ireland will be considered given that recent announcements in Ireland on the closure of peat fired power plants and the end of peat extraction for energy (again 5-6 years sooner than planned) means that there are common National/Regional challenges which must be overcome (alternative energy supply, new job creation, re-skilling of workforce etc.). A strong impression from the Mission was that the Regional Authority is very lucky to have a well established, professional Agency which can support the delivery of an energy transition strategy. The message that FAEN has been preaching for many years about the need to transition away from fossil fuels is now being heard! Lets hope it is not too late.