Regional plan for just transition

  • Expected types of operations
  • Developmental needs of the region
  • Strategic projects
  • Situation in the Zasava region
Within the framework of the Just Transition Fund, the financing of the following types of operations is foreseen:

  1. Decarbonisation of the region
Decarbonisation of the region will contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, while at the same time contributing to the creation of new, green jobs or to the restructuring of existing competences in the field of sustainable energy use in accordance with the findings of the International Labor Organization and with the effects on employment, as envisaged by the adopted NEPN.

The resources of the Just Transition Fund will support:

The production of various RES technologies, whereby investments will be preferentially directed to spatially and environmentally degraded areas; It is expected that new and existing economic entities will, based on research and development activities regarding RES and low-carbon technologies, cause the implementation of these technologies in (at least) regional production systems (e.g. green energy in glass production, etc.) and limit the brain drain from the region, as a result of interesting jobs with high added value in the region.

Measures to improve energy efficiency in the economy will be supported within the framework of productive investments (Strategic objective 2), in combinations with activities for decarbonization, material efficiency, job creation, etc. The main target group for the above-mentioned measures will be communities in the field of renewable energy sources and energy communities of citizens as envisaged by "Directive (EU) 2018/2001 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources" and "Directive (EU) 2019/944 on common rules of internal electricity market and amendments to Directive 2012/27/EU".

  1. Sustainable, flexible and diverse economic development:
The planned combination of measures for achiving this strategic goal will be aimed at the economic restructuring of the region in accordance with the NEPN, Slovenian Smart Specialization Strategy and the Zasavje Regional Development Program, in order to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon, circular, digitized economy.

The resources of the Just Transition Fund will support:

Investments in research, development, innovation and production capacity of the region in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs):as part of this measure, support will be intended for small and medium-sized companies, especially in areas that are recognized as breakthroughs in the Smart Specialization Strategy and in areas that will prove to be decisive for the implementation of just transition of the region and mitigating the consequences and exploiting the potential for further transformation in low-carbon circular economy. The support will also be aimed at strengthening R&D based on the transfer of knowledge between SMEs and large companies.

Investments in R&D - support for investments in research and development related to Industry 4.0 and factories of the future (e.g. digitalization; increasing virtualization of processes and the workforce; prototype solutions simulations; introduction of artificial intelligence into production processes; development of smart spaces; robotics; hyperautomation; IoT solutions; digital twins). The support will be, among other, aimed at solutions from the fields of energy and material efficiency; increasing the share of RES use; introduction of materials, services, business models, etc. which are consistent with the principles of  circular economy. It is planned to support research and development of products for electrical installations in smart buildings, cities, e-mobility and battery storage of electricity (such as the establishment of the Center for demonstration and training in the field of carbon-free technologies).

Investments in companies - Funds will be allocated to productive investments for the implementation of projects intended for the commercialization of developed materials, products, (non)technological solutions, services and business models in SMEs and, exceptionally, in large companies with a decisive regional influence (explanation and tentative list of companies is in chapter 2.4), which will strengthen production, service and/or research and development activities in areas consistent with S5 to accelerate the dual transition. Support will, among other things, be intended for investments in areas related to the transition to a low-carbon circular economy (RES, increase in material productivity, industrial symbiosis, development of materials, products, services, business models, social entrepreneurship, etc.) and with the transformation to Industry 4.0, digitization , etc. In accordance with S5 and NEPN, investments will have to follow the principles of energy efficient and circular economy in all phases of the project.

Pilot and demonstration projects - In the framework of this measure, it will be possible to support the implementation of pilot/demonstration projects for the implementation of technological and/or non-technological/social innovations. Special emphasis will be placed on strengthening regional partnerships between key companies in the region, strategic development-innovation partnerships (SDIP) within the framework of S5 and other already existing partnerships, clusters (DIHi, etc.). With these projects, the conditions necessary for the implementation of higher levels of development (TRL 5-8) will be established, resulting in the development of, market ready, new solutions and technologies.

Development of the start-up ecosystem and promotion of companies with the potential for rapid growth, including economic business infrastructure: Support will be allocated to projects and initiatives that will either take advantage of or improve the existing potential and capacities of start-up, small and medium-sized companies in the region, especially in the sectors of Smart specialization strategy, and will at the same time contribute to the transition to a low-carbon circular economy. Funds will be directed for investments in the further functional development of degraded areas, including economic and business infrastructure (business zones and business incubators), as it is one of the prerequisites for the growth and development of SMEs as well as large companies. When supporting these measures, we will act in accordance with the explanation regarding the polluter pays principle, which is presented in more detail in (Appendix 2).

Investments in infrastructure on degraded areas, aimed at the development of entrepreneurship, we will encourage entrepreneurial activity and restructuring of the region, create new jobs (direct effects of such investments), take care of the preservation and revitalization of the cultural heritage related to coal mining and thereby make the region more attractive from the touristical point of view (indirect effects of such investments). In the process document elaboration, stakeholders in the region had several opportunities to propose and identify projects for the transition of the region to a carbon-free society.

  1. Highly motivated and qualified residents
In the area of human resource management and investing in human resources, the funds of the Just Transition Fund will support:

Enriched implementation of high-quality and accessible learning: with an emphasis on strengthening key and professional competences (primarily entrepreneurship competences, digital and green competences) of students and professionals, as well as an inclusive educational environment across the entire vertical (from kindergartens to higher education), and digital transformations of school premises;

Lifelong career orientation and training of unemployed and jobseekers (informing, motivating, counseling activities for unemployed, informal education and training, retraining and requalification with the goal of transitioning to employment or self-employment);

Introduction of circular content in educational institutions, especially the content, knowledge and competences necessary for green jobs and for the transition to a low-carbon society and economy (in accordance with the objectives in the field of education and training for sustainable development - Education and training for sustainable development (ETSD);
The Zasavje statistical region includes the municipalities Hrastnik, Litija, Trbovlje and Zagorje ob Savi, and according to the data of the Republic of Slovenia Statistical Office it had,in the year 2020 57,148 inhabitants. Hrastnik, Trbovlje and Zagorje ob Sava are generally recognized as mining environments with rich mining tradition. Due to the maturity stage of the coal exit process in the region, the influential area of the coal industry in the area of these three municipalities is clearly recognized. That is the reason why we define it as a narrower area of just transition. The municipality of Litija is also included in the wider area of influence, as it belongs to the Zasavje statistical region. The key strategic goals and further measures of just transition are designed in such a way that they will primarily be aimed at creating positive impacts on the narrower area of influence, while on the other hand these impacts can be also achieved by implementing measures within the entire Zasavje region.

In order to gain an insight into the current situation of Zasavje coal mining region, a thorough comparative analysis was carried out during the preparation of the NSCC (National Strategy for Coal Exit and Coal Region Restructuring), where all elements of a just transition were discussed - energy transition, transition of human capital and social infrastructure, economy and environment. An assessment of the situation was made for each of the coal regions and the main development needs in each coal region were defined.

In the just transition process of the Zasavje region, measures will be supported that will reduce the gap between supply and demand on the labor market. Programs are planned for the acquisition of competences among lower qualified employees and the unemployed with the aim of enabling them to occupy more demanding jobs that are and will be available in the economic sector. An important emphasis will be placed on relevant programs for young people, with which the brain drain will be decreased and also attract a younger population and relevant personnel to the region.

It is about support programs that will generate new jobs with high added value. In the area of human resources development, several areas have been identified in the region that will need to be supported in order to successfully complete the green transformation. The key ones are the improvement of the local education system, the enrichment and strengthening of key competences of schoolchildren (digital, entrepreneurship competences, the transition to a low-carbon circular economy). The focus will be also on the transfer of developed solutions in the area of key competences to educational institutions and on the expansion and development of innovative learning environments supported by ICT in the school environment and the involvement of the school environment in the measures of other development areas (e.g. demonstration centers, robotics, artificial intelligence , transition to a low-carbon circular economy, etc.).

The potential for creating new jobs in the region is evident in the SME sector (small and medium-sized enterprises) and also in large companies. With appropriate support, we plan to develop new jobs with higher added value in both sectors. This will be followed by targeted training and education programs for the appropriate development and guidance of personnel. The gap analysis elaborated for the region shows that large companies not working in the energy sector are an important factor in the economic development of the region. These companies are an important stakeholder in ensuring a just transition because of the potential they have in preserving jobs and also in developing the potential for new jobs. They additionally play an important role in the development and operation of start-ups and SMEs, as they are both bond into different ecosystems. They will continue to play and build on this role in the future. In the case of large companies, we will encourage the expansion and optimization of their existing production activities and the elaboration of a related and diversified ecosystem of economic activities, which will include companies of all forms. It is important for large companies to attract highly educated individuals from other regions as well. SMEs in the Zasavje region employ 87% (2019) of the working population. Therefore, SMEs represent the greatest employment potential in this sector. The development potential of SMEs is manifested in new technologies and new materials. The measures of just transition will support new production and service activities of the SME sector and that will create added value and generate new jobs.

There is great potential in the region for capacity building in the field of research and innovation and the development of new research activities. It is an area that, on one hand, provides jobs with the highest added value and, on the other hand, implements educational and research programs that provide special skills, technology development and an exceptional environment for personnel development. Large companies will thus be able, in cooperation with research organizations and other relevant stakeholders from the region, to gain funds for research and development activities in areas that will be consistent with the Slovenian strategy of smart specialization. This support will be mergeable with measures in the field of education and training. R&D measures, including research infrastructure, are being planned in the region in cooperation with existing research organizations. The just transition measures will support the research activities of existing economic entities and also new potential research activities.

For a faster restructuring of the economy, the region identified the need for greater diversification of the local economy, both in terms of sectoral and size diversity. From the sectors analyzed, it will be necessary to invest in the further development of industries such as e.g. electrical industry, new technologies (IT, carbon-free, space and measuring technologies), production and processing of metals and non-metals, and agriculture in connection with self-sufficiency. The sectors of service activity, wood industry and tourism are also relatively poorly developed, where opportunities appear mainly in the direction of the development of sustainable tourism.

The results will be achived by implementing measures aimed at the appropriate diversification of the economy and supporting its transformation towards low-carbon and circular business models with established supporting environment for the sustainable development of region.

An important factor of just transition is also the adequate transport connection of the region with neighboring regions. In the last century, the Zasavje region did not have a great need to improve its road connections with neighboring regions, as the economy was not diversified due to coal mining. Many companies were dependent on the coal company, which sold coal to the Trbovlje Thermal Power Plant located in the Zasavje region. The Power plant then sent its main product, electricity, to other parts of the country via the power grid. Larger regional employers also used the railway to carry out their activities. With the abandonment of coal mining in 2000, the diversification of the regional economy began, but for normal development it needs a modern road connection with all neighboring regions. The road connection to eastern Slovenia via the regional road G2-108 from the town of Hrastnik to the settlement of Zidani Most, is particularly critical. It represents the shortest flat connection with eastern Slovenia, but is completely unsuitable for cargo transport (e.g. one-way traffic on certain sections, multiple railway crossing). Cargo transport therefore passes through urban centers and over passes, which is not appropriate. The reconstruction of the Hrastnik-Zidani Most regional road would therefore enable the region to have a modern road connection with eastern Slovenia and thus the conditions for faster diversification of the economy.

In the energy sector, development needs are identified at the national level. General development needs include: reducing the risk of dependence on energy imports; a greater share of RES in the final use of energy, an increase in efficient use of energy and an increase in the capacity and possibilities of energy storage, including the development of hydrogen technologies and the use of batteries as well as projects to connect systems. The increase in the share of renewable energy in the region is also important because it can significantly improve air quality in the region. The production and storage of energy from RES are fundamental activities that will catalyze the creation of new jobs and which will ensure that the region's focus on the energy sector is maintained. The investments are designed as pillars of economic ecosystems within the promising industries of the future, around which small and medium-sized companies will primarily operate.
In the process of preparing the regional plan, stakeholders had the opportunity to identify and propose projects that are important for the transformation of the region. The following projects were recognized as leaders, which respond to the greatest extent to the development needs for solving the challenges of the transition:
  • Center for demonstration and training in the field of carbon-free technologies (DTCT Center)
The center for demonstration and training in the field of carbon-free technologies under the management of the Chemical Institute will be the first public research organization in the region, within the framework of which a research infrastructure will be established, where researchers will work in the direction of the transition of the industry to a modern green-oriented industry. The project will support research into carbon-free technologies, including battery systems, hydrogen technologies, innovative storage and heat conversion systems.
  • Revitalization and fitting out of areas intended for economic and business infrastructure
Despite the large extent of functionally degraded areas, which are the result of coal mining and heavy industry, there is a great lack of properly equipped business premises in Zasavje region, which would be available to potential investors. That is why the revitalization of degraded areas for the purposes of establising or expanding the economic and business infrastructure is extremely important for the region. It would have a significant positive impact on the improvement of the business environment, as during the process many proposals for entrepreneurial investments were obtained from companies, which are naturally linked to the establishment or expansion of the business zones of OIC Lakonca in Trbovlje, OIC Kisovec in Zagorje ob Sava and OIC Rudnik in Hrastnik.
  • Improvement of traffic connectivity with the reconstruction of the road G2-104 Ljubljana-Zidani Most
The road G2-104 which connects Hrastnik with the important traffic intersection Zidani most and, due to its unsuitability for cargo transport, represents a major obstacle for regional development. With the reconstruction of the road, Zasavje will be guaranteed connectivity to other regional centers in eastern Slovenia and a connection to the planned 3rd development axis, the existing Zasavje roads will be relieved and traffic safety will be increased. Improving accessibility will thus contribute to the reduction of the region's development lag.
The process of restructuring the Zasavje region began in the year 1999. At that time, a referendum was held in Slovenia on the construction of a new block of the Trbovlje Thermal Power Plant (TET), in which the residents rejected the project. Since the operations of the nearby coal mine Trbovlje-Hrastnik (RTH) was very closely related to power plant, a decision was made to close the mine. In 2000, the Act on the Regulation of the Gradual Closure of the Trbovlje - Hrastnik Mine and Developmental Restructuring of the Region was adopted. This marked the beginning of the abandonment of coal mining in the Zasavje region.

In the process of restructuring and abandoning the coal industry in the region, the principles of a just transition from coal were not taken into account, especially the principle of replacing lost jobs and encouraging the development of new economic activities.

Twenty years later, the region is facing many structural problems typical for coal regions in the process of transition from coal. There is long-term unemployment among the population, highly qualified labor is leaving the region, the population is aging, and the entire region is experiencing a process of depopulation. Compared to other Slovenian regions, Zasavje region has the lowest GDP and lack of jobs with a higher added value. The data on the high proportion of long-term unemployed persons, especially in the municipality of Trbovlje, where this proportion represents 6.5% of all unemployed persons (2019), is also telling.

The closing of the coal mining operations also resulted in a decrease of economic activity in those business that were directly or indirectly related to the coal mine. During the first period of the restructuring process, between 2000 and 2011 more than 5,000 jobs were lost, which represented 27% of all jobs in the region. During the period of gradual abandonment of the coal industry in the Zasavje region, the lost jobs were never replaced, and as a result, 11% of the population emigrated from the region.

The gap analysis showed that there are currently not enough new job opportunities in the region today to employ the unemployed who were left without work after the closure of the coal industry. There is a large proportion of unemployed people in the region, whose educational structure does not meet the current needs of the regional economy. In addition, due to the lack of jobs with a higher added value, there is a daily labor migration of competent workforce to Ljubljana and other urban centers outside the region.

In the process of just transition, it will be necessary to harmonize the needs of the economy and the labor market in order to ensure new jobs with higher added value that will enable the local population to work and live in the region.

Despite the abandonment of the use of coal, CO2 emissions in the region are still considerable due to the operating of key economic activities. The large load of CO2 emissions is due to the greater volume of daily traffic, as most employees commute to work in other parts of Slovenia. Poor ventilation of the basins additionally contributes to this, and there are also a few companies in the region that have CO2-intensive production (Steklarna Hrastnik – Special d.o.o., Steklarna Hrastnik – Vitrum d.o.o., IGM Zagorje, Komunala Trbovlje, TKI Hrastnik).


Zasavje region