The European Commission has climbed down over the ‘Modelgate’ controversy about preliminary research for new energy efficiency laws, with Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete promising EU officials will analyse higher efficiency goals for 2030 than originally planned.
Such cost and benefit modelling is increasingly a pre-condition for EU legislation. EurActiv exclusively revealed in November that officials only planned to analyse a greater efficiency share up to a maximum increase of 33% by 2030.
After the story broke, a cross-party group of 13 MEPs had urged Maroš Šef?ovi?, the Commission Vice-President in charge of Energy Union, and Cañete, to overrule their officials and analyse 35% and 40% targets.
The European Commission will now model over a range of 27% to 40%, Cañete wrote to the European People’s Party, Socialists & Democrats (S&D), Greens, Liberal and Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group MEPs.
“Let me reassure you that we take into account the repeated call by the European Parliament for a 40% energy efficiency target,” he said, confirming our earlier report in November.
The European Parliament had backed a 40% 2030 efficiency target in an October 2015 resolution about the UN Climate Change Conference, which reached a landmark deal to cap global warming last year.
The 33% upper limit on the modelling led to accusations that the Commission was limiting the ambition of the revised Energy Efficiency Directive, due this year.
MEP Claude Turmes, a Luxembourgish Green, memorably branded the decision a “pre-emptive strike” that pre-judged the legislative process.
Campaigners, who dubbed the outcry Modelgate, said it was cutting the potential of the legislation off at the knees.
Only analysing a 33% target would tie the Parliament’s hands in negotiations, Belgian Socialist MEP Kathleen Van Brempt said at the time.
MEPs must agree an identical text with the Council of Ministers before it can become law.
EU leaders in October 2014 agreed a 2030 energy efficiency goal of at least a 27% increase by 2030.
The Commission had pushed for 30%. The agreement to limit global warming at COP21 could give the push for a higher target political momentum among member states.
Campaigners warned in November, before the COP, the executive would have to model a higher scenario than 33% to have enough leverage to get national governments to agree to 30%,
Throughout the outcry, the Commission has insisted it was assessing how to model the review of the directive. But internal documents seen by EurActiv confirmed the 33% plan.
Cañete’s letter revealed the concrete modelling work had not yet begun, but that it would go up to 40%.
The Commission has repeatedly promised to “put efficiency first” in its Energy Union strategy.
The strategy is the executive’s flagship push to fight climate change and reduce the bloc’s dependence on energy imports. 90% of EU Energy Union legislation is planned for 2016,
Earlier Commission analysis showed that a 40% target would bolster the EU’s energy security, boost local employment and increase GDP far more than lower percentages.
Friends of the Earth Europe commissioned environmental consultancy Ecofys to run a cost-benefit analysis using the same research methodology as the executive will start using in 2016. It found that the best level for an energy efficiency target, on purely economic grounds such as GDP increase, was just over 35%.
“It’s a relief to know that the Commission will model all the way up to 40%, but, frankly, given the huge potential of energy efficiency to cut emissions, there was no other choice in the wake of the Paris agreement,” said Friends of the Earth Europe campaigner Brook Riley this morning (26 January).
“What really matters is the level of ambition Arias Cañete recommends later this year. If he goes well above 30% he’ll show the Commission truly believes its motto that the cheapest, cleanest and safest energy is that which isn’t used.”
Stefan Scheuer, secretary general for The Coalition for Energy Savings, said: "It is a welcome step toward improving the decision-making process. But the Better Regulation agenda also requires a fair comparison of the costs and benefits. If this is not done, the assessment will not deliver information about the target levels which deliver largest net benefits and lead the EU to miss its cost-effective potential”.
EU leaders have agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. But heads of state and government watered down the 2030 targets for renewables and for energy efficiency, which are not binding at national level. They lowered a European Commission-proposed 30% increase to at least 27%. That was seen as a backwards step, after the binding 20% 2020 targets for efficiency and renewables agreed in the past.
The 2030 targets were a signal of intent before the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) and formed the basis of the EU's negotiating position.
The Energy Union is part of the political response to the threat to EU gas supplies. The majority of Russian gas imports to the EU, about 30% of its annual needs, goes through Ukraine. In 2009, Russia turned off the taps, causing shortages in the EU.
Plans for the Union have developed beyond questions of security of supply to encompass issues such as fighting climate change.
The European Union's Energy Efficiency Directive in late 2012 was expected to trigger the largest revamp of Europe's existing building stock to date and set new standards for public procurement and energy audits. But implementation of the rules at national level has been poor. The EED is as close as the EU comes to an EU-wide energy efficiency strategy anchored by legislation. It is earmarked to be revamped in 2016.
2016: Revamp of Energy Efficiency Directive