MEPs give major boost to renewables industry

  

The Parliament's Industry Committee has almost unanimously backed EU legislation that paves the way for massive investment in renewables. EU countries are set to back the main elements of the vote, according to Green MEP Claude Turmes, who shepherded the file through Parliament.

"This is a great day" for renewable energies in Europe, said an emotional and overjoyed Turmes following the committee's vote in Brussels yesterday (11 September). 

The Green MEP from Luxembourg, who authored the Parliament's report on a proposal to boost the share of renewables in final energy consumption to 20% by 2020, predicts that the wind turbine sector alone will overtake EU car manufacturers as the biggest clients of the steel industry by 2013.

Following weeks of difficult negotiations among the Parliament's political groups, over 1,800 amendments to the Turmes report were condensed into 35 compromise amendments. MEPs in the Industry (ITRE) Committee voted by 50 votes in favour of the final report, with only two MEPs voting against.

Sticks and carrots

The adopted report makes no changes to the individual targets set for member states by the Commission in its original proposal (see EurActiv LinksDossier). 

But Turmes won support from other MEPs over his insistence that the EU set interim targets for member states, backed by the threat of financial penalties of up to €110 per megawatt (mw) for laggards. In contrast, member states that overachieve should receive a financial award to the tune of €30 to €40 per mw, Turmes said.  

In the weeks ahead, Turmes will attempt to convince the Council of the need for such a penalty regime. While the rapporteur claims he has already received "very good feedback" from select EU governments, it remains unclear if the regime will be welcomed by a majority of member states. 

Target sharing

Unlike the difficulties he may face in convincing EU governments of the need for penalties to drive renewables growth, the rapporteur expects little trouble in getting them to sign up to the flexibility mechanisms outlined in the report, since they are largely a "copy-paste" of an earlier joint proposal put forward by the UK, Germany and Poland, Turmes said (EurActiv 10/06/08).

Under the plans, member states could engage in joint renewables projects and record mw increases as progress towards their indidivudal targets, meaning the percentage of renewable energy increase achieved in each project would be shared between the participating member states based on the level of participation of each country.

Examples could include a massive offshore wind project off the coast of the Netherlands with the backing of Belgium and Luxembourg, who could put their investments towards their individual targets, Turmes said. A joint project between Portugal, Italy and Spain based on imports of solar or wind energy from North Africa could also be envisaged, he said. 

Grids and buildings

The Turmes report includes specific language designed to give renewable energies priority access to existing electricity and gas infrastructure. Member states should also impose new rules that would promote, or oblige, the use of renewable technologies in new and existing buildings. 

The permanent representatives committee of the Council (Coreper) will now also address these two issues at technical level, with the issue of priority grid access expected to present some difficulties for certain member states. 

"I am not too optimistic" that all EU countries will embrace the push for priority grid access," Oliver Schäfer, policy director at the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), told EurActiv. 

Positions: 

The Commission welcomes the "comprehensive" work of Turmes and the ITRE Committee on the renewables files, Hans Van Steen told MEPs on 10 September on the eve of the vote. 

But Steen, who is head of unit for renewables regulatory policy in the Commission's energy directorate (DG TREN), expressed a "worry" that a system of joint target compliance for member states could weaken the incentives for each country to pursue its individual targets.

Most of Parliament's political groups reacted positively, reflecting the broad political backing for the report achieved in advance of the vote.

UK Liberal MEP Fiona Hall welcomed the "workable compromise" that was achieved and proclaimed her party's "decisive role" in making the vote possible. German Christian Democrat MEP Werner Langen congratulated Turmes on his work in forging compromise amendments. But Langen criticised the proposed penalty regime as "the wrong instrument".

EREC, the European Renewable Energy Council, "broadly supports the Turmes report," in particular the call for renewable energy obligations in buildings. "This is a very welcome and logical pathway to truly integrate renewables into our daily lives," EREC's Policy Director Oliver Schäfer said in a statement.

However, RICS, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, is concerned that mandating renewables for buildings "may not be possible for certain locations". "For example, a building may be in a location where there is not enough sunlight and no forests nearby: in other words, imposing the use of photovoltaics or the use of wood pellets could hardly be justified", Ursula Hartenberger, head of Public Affairs at RICS, told EurActiv.

RICS is calling for "a certain flexibility in the building codes, taking into account climatic and geographic locations," Hartenberger said. 

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) welcomed the report's insistence on priority access and the proposed flexibility mechanisms. "It is imperative that the member states take on board the European Parliament's proposals if they are serious about negotiating a successful agreement in time for the international climate negotiations," EWEA Executive Director Christian Kjaer said in a statement.

Greenpeace hailed the vote as a sign that the EU is "moving closer to the energy revolution in the fight against climate change," the organisation's renewables campaigner Frauke Thies said in a statement.

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