Harald Wögerbauer, the court member responsible for the report, said in a statement: “Member states were essentially using this money to refurbish public buildings while energy efficiency was, at best, a secondary concern.”
The spending involved could not be recouped for 50 years on average, the auditors found.
The ECA audited 24 investment projects for public buildings in the Czech Republic, Italy and Lithuania, since these were the countries that received the most Cohesion and Regional Development funds for energy efficiency measures between 2007 and 2013.
The European Commission and the member states are both responsible for the financial management of the funds, and must contribute a share of the investment.
The report analysed the cost-effectiveness of EU Cohesion Policy long-term investments in energy efficient buildings, which were intended to save governments money.
The court, an EU body, found that the projects selected by member state authorities for financing did not have “rational objectives in terms of cost-effectiveness, for example in the cost per unit of energy saved.”
To Wögerbauer, this did not represent a proper use of public funds. “You need a return on investment if you are using public money,” he said.
The planned payback of the funds was 50 years on average, rising to 150 years in extreme cases, he found. This was longer than the lifecycle of some of the components used in renovations, he said.
Wögerbauer called on the Commission to set a maximum payback period, recommending between five to 10 years depending on the case in the individual member state. He said a payback period of 10 years would mean that 20% of the funds were being targeted correctly towards energy efficiency measures.
“We hope that with the report, the Commission will look for further conditions for investment”, he said.
‘Not the way to do it’
But to Randall Bowie, chief energy efficiency consultant at Rockwool International, a sustainable homes company, said that the ECA report “oversimplified the cost-benefits”.
“I’m surprised for an organisation that spends so much time on accounting," he told EurActiv. "This is not the way you take in longer term investments”.
Bowie, who has drafted Commission energy efficiency directives for the EU's energy directorate, said the report did not take into account the importance of 'co-benefits', including returns in tax from increased employment, and societal benefits such as improved health and the resultant reduction in health spending.
He added that it was problematic to require governments to target only those energy efficient measures with apparently higher cost-benefit returns.
“You need to use [the funds] on comprehensive renovations, not these shallow ones. On old buildings you can improve performance by 80%. Deep renovations are more effective. A 20% improvement now locks in 60% over the next years”, he said.
“You need to use a lifecycle cost analysis. Then you would come up with a much clearer argument to put more into energy efficiency.”
The report complained that there was a lack of necessary data, because energy audits are not mandatory in Italy and Lithuania. They are required in the Czech Republic, but the recommended investment options were far too costly. In 18 out of the 24 audited projects, actual energy savings could not be verified since they had not been reliably measured, the report said.