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On Wednesday, 21 February, the Riga City Council adopted new heating regulations*, which aim to gradually abandon the use of fossil fuels and reduce air pollution, while switching to more environmentally friendly heating.

"The events of recent years have made it clear that gas cannot be relied on as a cheap energy source, so we need to think about using renewable energy for heating and promoting energy independence. To continue Riga's path towards climate neutrality and more environmentally friendly heating technologies, while reducing CO2 emissions, we have drafted new regulations to encourage the connection to central heating or the installation of emission-free heat sources, such as heat pumps. This does not mean that certain types of heating will immediately be significantly restricted, but that the best solutions for the city and the most economical solutions for the residents in terms of life cycle will be prioritised," says Viesturs Zeps, Chairman of the Housing and Environment Committee.

The first binding regulations on air pollution zoning were adopted by the Riga City Council in 2006, but the 2019 version already includes requirements against coal restrictions in all areas of the city. A total of three zones have been identified, depending on the amount of pollution and taking into account the number of people affected, the type of territorial use and the availability of central heating. The first two zones are designated in the city centre and its immediate surroundings — Teika, Čiekurkalns, the area near Pārdaugava, Āgenskalns, Bieriņi, Atgāzene and elsewhere. The rest of Riga is designated as zone 3.

According to the new regulations, the installation of heating systems that use coal, lignite, peat and liquid fuels, including diesel, will be prohibited in all zones. Also, without a techno-economic justification, the approval of new gas heating installations will be prohibited throughout Riga from 2026 and the installation after 2031, but it will be possible to replace existing boilers with new ones.

More information: https://www.riga.lv/lv/jaunie-apkures-noteikumi-riga-noteikumi-vel-nav-stajusies-speka

For whom nothing changes?

  • For central heating users;
  • Owners of wood stoves, biomass and gas boilers who do not plan or have the means to change their heating equipment.

Who should expect changes?

  • When constructing new buildings or replacing old boilers, priority is given to central heating or emission-free heating sources.
  • The possibility of replacing an existing equipment with a new combustion appliance with a rated thermal input not exceeding 50 kW, reducing overall air pollution, in all zoned properties which are individual flats in apartment buildings or private houses, shall be provided.
  • The possibility of changing the type of heating supply from individual to local in all zoned properties, which are individual apartments in apartment buildings, is provided for, allowing the replacement of the old heating system with a new one, increasing the heat input capacity, choosing the existing solution according to the decision of the community of apartment owners and reducing the overall air pollution.
  • If neither central heating nor heat pumps are available or technically justified, investments in efficient biomass or gas heating are possible.
  • Permits for new gas boilers from 1 January 2026, only be issued in rare cases, if there are no other options and an appropriate economic justification calculation has been made. The permits can be used for 5 years from the date of issue, so the boilers can be installed until 2031.

What do the regulations give to city residents?

  • Clarity on the city's plans for the future, coherent with European and global climate and air pollution policies. It will be made clear in advance when new investments will not be allowed, so there will be no sudden surprises due to European requirements.
  • The road to better air quality. Air quality is one of the biggest causes of mortality in Riga, and we are losing many healthy years of life because of it.
  • The possibility to plan a gradual and timely transition to local energy sources, ensuring a modern and reliable heating supply without the sharp price fluctuations caused by dependence on fossil resources, such as the increase in the cost of natural gas during the energy crisis.

The new regulations provide relief or improve the existing situation in the following respects:

  • The regulations are more flexible for the installation of renewable energy sources if air pollution is reduced;
  • The Heat Supply Commission can decide on the installation of the new sources on their merits, subject to a technical-economic assessment;
  • Simpler zoning of heating supply.

Additional environmental improvement requirements are outlined in the following situations:

  • To strengthen the city's climate and air quality objectives, including reducing nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide emissions - a time period is set after which no new permits will be issued for fossil fuels (1 January 2026), marking a gradual transition (permit valid for 5 years) to renewable energy sources or connecting to central heating networks;
  • On the registration and control of heating sources (n7Determined by Cabinet Regulation No. 19 of 16 April 2020 "On the Action Plan to Reduce Air Pollution 2020-2030", section 8.2 on planned measures, clause 9 and its sub-clauses).

When do the new regulations apply?

  • Owners of wood stoves, biomass and gas boilers who do not plan to change their heating equipment and who do not have the possibility to do so at the moment, as well as all those who use central heating, are not affected;
  • The regulation affect owners who plan to invest in new heating installations, determining which long-term investments are in line with the long-term plans of the European Union, Latvia and Riga, and which are not;
  • The regulations shall apply at the time when authorisation from the Heat Supply Commission is required. To simplify, if you have not had to deal with such a commission before, you will not need one in the future, except for the decisions on heating replacement as described above;
  • When constructing a new building, priority is given to central heating or emission-free heating sources.

Examples of where the regulations will affect investment in new heating installations:

  • If it is planned to invest in new coal-fuelled installations, this will not be allowed (as before);
  • If it is planned to invest in the installation of new gas or biomass heating in an area where a connection to technically convenient and cost-effective central heating is available, this will not be allowed in the first pollution zone unless it is supported by an economic calculation for the installation and use of the heating appliance over its lifetime. Justification — investments should prioritise non-polluting heating in major risk areas.
  • If neither centralised nor heat pump supply is available or technically justified, investments in efficient biomass or gas installations are allowed according to the economic feasibility calculation.

When is permit required from the Heat Supply Commission for boiler replacements?

The permit is required before starting a new heating production or changing the type of heating production. Does not apply to equipment repairs. A permit is not required for existing boilers. It is required when installing a new boiler or replacing a boiler, just as before.

Why is it important that such significant costs are not invested in unviable forms of heating from 2026?

VARAN has set targets to improve air quality and mitigate climate change. To avoid unplanned replacements of installed equipment, it is planned to reduce particulate matter and nitrogen oxides and to switch to renewable energies gradually.

How does replacing one gas boiler with a new one compare to connecting to central heating and heat pumps?

Establishing a connection, installing heat pumps can be more costly than installing a natural gas boiler. With climate policy, natural gas prices can also be expected to rise further in the future, so operating costs are likely to be higher for natural gas boilers. The City Council intends to create support measures to cover the cost of installing the equipment from 2026.

A comparison can be made between an Incandescent light bulb and an LED bulb, where the heat pump is the LED bulb. It costs more at the beginning, but afterwards the heat is cheaper compared to heat from a natural gas boiler.

If there is a radiator system based on a gas boiler throughout the whole property — what if the boiler breaks and needs to be replaced, but you don't want to replace the whole system?

By installing another heating source, it is possible to use the existing radiators and internal networks in the apartment. Each case will be assessed by the Heat Supply Commission on technical and economic grounds. By using these options to take out the permit earlier, the gas boilers can be replaced almost until 2031.

Why is there a need for a gradual shift from fossil to renewable energy?

  • Reduces air pollution and greenhouse gases;
  • Reduced imports of fossil fuels;
  • More economically viable in the long term;
  • Local energy sources;
  • Less risk of price fluctuations.

*"On the territorial zones for the selection of the type of heating supply and the requirements for the selection of the equipment for the heating supply system"

Information prepared by: Mārtiņš Vilemsons, Project Coordinator at External Communication Division of Riga City Council Communication Department, email: martins.vilemsons@riga.lv