Oettinger: Investment in building renovations is a priority

  

The European Union's next budget should focus more on the energy-efficient renovation of buildings, European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger said after member states officially agreed on the EU's intensely negotiated Energy Efficiency Directive.

Speaking after the 16 June meeting of energy ministers in Luxembourg, which marked the official deal on the Energy Efficiency Directive, Oettinger warned member states that there will be no ways of getting around the new compulsory measures.

“This is a binding legislation and our member states have to decide on their priorities, and a priority is to invest in existing buildings, to make them more efficient,” Oettinger told reporters.

However, under the proposal, the only obligation for member states regarding buildings is the renovation of 3% of all central government owned and occupied buildings with a total usable floor area exceeding 250 meters squared.  In some countries, this narrows down the scope of the directive to only a few buildings – in Germany, to around 37 in total.

To top this measure, member states agreed as a compromise to also commit to 2050 roadmaps for the energy-efficient renovation of almost the entire building stock. This could trigger substantial savings, since buildings represent around 40% of the EU’s total energy use.

But green groups were skeptical about this "bonus" measure, because the roadmap is not compulsory.

"It contributes to the framework and it is a long-term outlook but it is not strong enough for 2020.  Member states agreed to them because they don't have to implement these roadmaps too soon," said Erica Hope of Climate Action Network Europe. 

Where to tap the money

The 27 EU countries will have to comply with the provisions of this directive within 18 months from its entry into force, in spring 2014.

Whilst the main obstacle in the way of energy efficiency is the initial capital investment needed, Oettinger said member states now have enough instruments available to start tapping the necessary money.

Through the adoption of the Energy Efficiency Directive, the EU has given a “good constructive offer” to all local authorities, regional governments and member states to use European money “more than in the past” to co-finance public and private investments in renovating buildings, Oettinger said.

This should be a priority in the EU's next budget, or multi-annual financial framework, he added.

“I am sure we [Commission, Parliament, Council] have a priority to use this money for investment in more energy efficient buildings – this is an upcoming priority,” the energy commissioner said. “Some buildings a year can be delivered from our side in the next MFF 2014-2020 just in time, just in parallel with our now binding measures for 2020,” Oettinger said.

Markus Trilling, who specialises in regional funds for green group Friends of the Earth Europe, said the Commission's proposal on greening the EU's next budget has been already watered down by the Council and that much of the power over how to spend EU regional funds is set to remain with national governments, triggering fears that much of the EU money will continue to be "poured into highways, airports and incinerators".

Channelling EU funds ‘efficienctly’

Referring to the initial capital needed in energy efficiency investments, Claude Turmes - the Green MEP who represented the European Parliament in the negotiations between the Council, Parliament and Commission - said the money should not be seen as cost, but as "pre-financing" method needed to avoid costs associated to higher energy imports and increasing oil prices.

EU energy imports costs were more than €400 billion last year, Commission figures show.

Turmes gave as example Spain, calling it one of Europe's "most inefficient and oil-dependent economy," sayingthat in the past decade, it has spent less than 0.3% of its structural funds for efficient energy use. 

But commissioner Oettinger was more optimistic about how the market will move in the future. He said Europe was "really on a good way" to financing energy efficiency.

"Politicians made binding measures. But energy is a long-term investment sector and everyone needs long-term planning security - so we started this debate on energy roadmaps," he said, referring to the 2050 renovation roadmap that aims to reduce energy use by 80%.

Playing with percentages

The Energy Efficiency Directive was supposed to be the EU's main tool to achieve its 20% energy efficiency target by 2020, but the law fell short of that initial goal.

"The Energy Efficiency Directive would bring us to about 15%, and the eco-design measures for boilers and water heaters and the transport efficiency requirements could deliver some 2% to 4% additional saving in total, depending on their level of ambition, timing and quality of implementation of course," said Matthieu Ballu of the Coalition for Energy Savings.

Commissioner Oettinger said he expected 2.5% of savings to be delivered by the transport sector, but gave no indication as to what measures he will propose in this respect. The remaining percentage, he said, will be reached by additions to already existing legislation on the energy-efficient design and quality of products, such as the Eco-design or Eco-label directives.

He left the remaining responsibility for the 20% target to the market. "With some additional market-based instruments, we can close the gap. ... An internal competition between member states now is key to consume better energy, with more efficiency and less consumption," Oettinger said.

Timeline: 
  • 1 July 2012: Cyprus takes over the EU presidency from Denmark.
  • July 2012: European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) scheduled to vote on the directive.
  • Sept. 2012: Vote in Parliament plenary.
  • 1 Jan. 2013: Ireland takes over the EU presidency from Cyprus.
  • 2016: European Commission to review the Energy Efficiency Directive.
External links: 

Member states:

  • The Coalition for Energy Savings: Website
  • Friends of Earth Europe: Website
  • Climate Action Network Europe: Website

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