SPECIAL REPORT / The Brussels Capital Region is probably the most ambitious in Europe in terms of introducing energy efficiency in buildings, industry sources tell EurActiv, but the European Commission’s ageing building stock has not yet reaped the benefits.

Following the passage of the Energy Efficiency Directive, the European Commission pledged to commit to the same energy savings measures in its buildings as was imposed on member states:

“The European Parliament, the Council and the Commission declare that, due to the high visibility of their buildings and the leading role they should play with regard to their buildings’ energy performance, they will, without prejudice to applicable budgetary and procurement rules, undertake to apply the same requirements to the buildings they own and occupy as those applicable to the buildings of member states’ central government”, said a European Council statement dated 29 January 2013.

The European Commission now occupies 54 buildings in Brussels, according to the Brussels infrastructure and logistics office (OIB), which manages the infrastructure for the EU executive. In Brussels overall, buildings account for a high 72% of total energy consumption, prompting a sleuth of ambitious measures to tackle energy efficiency from the Brussels-Capital Region.

The Energy Efficiency Directive, adopted in 2012, requires EU countries to renovate 3% of buildings "owned and occupied" by the central government each year.

However, the ownership status of the Commission’s buildings has complicated potential energy savings, particularly when it comes to deep renovation work. Bruxelles Environnement, a state agency, told EurActiv that Commission buildings fall under the responsibility of the government of the Brussels-Capital Region, and as such it is the local government that is responsible for introducing energy efficiency measures.

A Commission source told EurActiv that with a strict interpretation of ownership, buildings “owned and occupied” by the Commission in Brussels are just around 10%, which means for the other 90% the Commission is a tenant, making it a lot less enticing to carry out deep renovation.

“The European institutions are subject to the rules of the Brussels Capital Region and of the government of the Brussels Capital Region, which is responsible for the introduction of energy efficiency measures”, confirmed Nolween Lecuyer from Bruxelles Environnement.

“Indeed the buildings that we own and/or occupy are subject to all legislation related to buildings in the Brussels-Capital Region,” said Marlene Holzner, an energy spokesperson for the Commission.

As such, the Commission buildings are in theory included in the government’s ambitious renovation schemes, such as a measure to make all new buildings near-zero carbon emitters by 2015.

Brussels PLAGE scheme

The Brussels region has taken steps to follow the building renovation requirements of the Energy Efficiency Directive. A Local Action Plan for Energy Management, known by its French acronym PLAGE, has focused on energy efficiency improvements in large buildings in the public sector.

Funded by energy grants, it consists of a four-year action plan for buildings, including drawing up an energy inventory, developing an energy accounting system, implementing an action plan and monitoring energy consumption. So far, it has been rolled out in 15 municipal governments, five hospitals, two public and six social housing companies as well as in 70 schools.

There is no mention of Commission or EU buildings, however.

“Since its launch in 2005, PLAGE has led to a 16% average annual cut in fuel consumption and a reduction of 10,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, a stabilisation of electricity consumption and a savings of around €4.25 million per year,” according to a press release from Bruxelles Environnement.

Bruxelles Environnement told EurActiv that PLAGE has been so successful that the regional Parliament has decided to extend its scope so that from 2015, it will become mandatory for private owners of more than 100,000 m2 of buildings and public owners of more than 50,000 m2. 

Commission ‘in a tough position’ over buildings renovation

A European Parliament building does feature in one government scheme, BatEx, which aims to stimulate the markets to build and renovate buildings with a high energy performance and has been praised by industry sources for showing that ambitious renovations are achievable. The building, located on 30 Rue Montoyer, dating from 1958, has had a major refit and got a subsidy of €40/m² under the scheme.

“The EC has been in a tough position for many years because they have been renting the buildings they are in, rather than owning them. However, it is now pursuing a policy to buy the buildings it currently rents, which would enable it to make the kind of deep renovations that would result in major energy savings,” said Adrian Joyce, secretary-general of EuroACE, a private advocacy group campaigning for buildings renovation.

The Commission’s Infrastructure and Logistics Office (OIB), which is responsible for the day-to-day running of Commission buildings, told EurActiv about a range of energy efficiency measures it has pursued, including improved lighting, measures to improve efficiency of humidifiers and air handling units, removing hot water supplies in lavatories and reducing non-essential ventilation in parking lots.

“With the above measures, the Commission has improved the energy efficiency of its building park by almost 20% only in the last five years”, OIB told EurActiv.

According to OIB, the energy performance of the Commission properties (as defined by the energy performance certificates for public buildings) ranges from around 150kWh/m²/a to circa 650kWh/m²/a depending on the age, conception and use of individual buildings (from B to G category), with an overall average for the complete building park of the Commission standing at circa 360kWh/m²/a, whereas the average for administrative buildings in Brussels is 418kWh/m²/a (category D-).

EuroACE says the Commission should be more ambitious in its energy efficiency drive. “I think the European Commission should go beyond the level of ambition they are proposing for member states”, Joyce told EurActiv.

The EED requires member states to undertake a renovation rate of 3%. “I think the Commission should go for more than that, say 4%, and therefore lead by example”, says Joyce, whose EuroACE members include companies like Johnson Controls, BASF and Philips.

“I imagine that there are some willing voices in the Commission who would be willing to put those plans in place, but I can imagine many not-so-willing voices who would say that it’s too difficult for the Commission to achieve”, added Joyce.

Resistance in some Commission departments

Claude Turmes, a Green MEP from Luxembourg, told EurActiv that while the European Parliament tried to get an amendment to the EED that would have forced the Commission to play an exemplary role, there was much resistance from certain departments:

“There was a complete outcry in the European Commission against it, from DG Budget and DG Administration, so it was vetoed by the Commission”, said Turmes.

OIB says while the Commission is committed to further improve the efficiency of its buildings, it has already made the most evident adaptations, and that its building park is ageing:

“Therefore, further improvements can only be achieved through a mix of measures, such as behavioural changes, profound renovation of some buildings, or replacing older buildings by new and more efficient ones”, says the OIB. 

EurActiv understands that Fiona Hall, the Liberal MEP who is active in promoting energy efficiency policies, plans to submit a parliamentary question soon to see what is being done to fulfill that commitment.

“The Commission should be a flagship for energy efficiency in buildings in Brussels. They should agree on a work-plan on how to renovate the most inefficient wrecks between now and 2020”, Turmes said.