Bendt Bendtsen MEP: Time for EU countries to draft building strategies, ‘we’ll be watching’

Bendt Bendtsen [European Parliament]

This article is part of our special report Healthy buildings: Good for our wallets?.

Nearly half of Europe’s energy is used up by buildings but new rules adopted by the EU earlier this year wants to inject efficiency en masse into the sector and improve massively the edifices in which we live and work. EURACTIV spoke with the lawmaker behind the new legislation.

Bendt Bendtsen is a Danish MEP with the European People’s Party. He was lead rapporteur on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which in May was the first legislation from 2016’s Clean Energy Package to be adopted.

He spoke to EURACTIV’s Sam Morgan.

You successfully helmed the revision of the EPBD but now that it has formally been adopted, what are the next steps?

For the first time, I think we’ve really got the commitment from member states to propose long-term renovation strategies and milestones. Getting them on board made me really happy because what we’ve often seen is countries saying ‘yes, yes, yes’ at climate summits like Paris in 2015 and then ‘no, no, no’ during the negotiations here in Brussels. But we’ve got a very good directive now. The ball’s in their court and it’ll be up to the Commission to keep an eye on what’s going on. Member states are going to have to implement it in their own legislation.

What kind of timeline are we talking?

The directive gives them around two years to implement the new rules. I want to see these long-term strategies with clear definitions for 2030, 2040. We needed that. Existing buildings are the challenge. New building rate is only about 1% a year after all. Getting the existing structures in the directive was very important.

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What does the EPBD offer in terms of renovation? Is there a set of minimum criteria, for example?

We’ve given the member states a toolbox. They can use it now as they see fit, be it measures on renovation rates or consumption per square metre, it’ll be up to them. Building passports are a part of this too, they’re a good tool. We can find savings that are cost-effective. No problem. The important thing is to foster increased energy efficiency in our buildings. We know the targets about nearly zero energy buildings in 2050, so countries can make their choice. We’ll keep an eye on them though.

Is that choice the reason why the EPBD was adopted with such a large majority? It seemed a lot smoother than the negotiations on the Energy Efficiency Directive, for example.

We got good support from heavy industry in Europe. We know that 80% of the buildings we have today, will still be there in 2050. We know that 40% of our energy consumption is taken up by our houses, so the building sector has to take a part in creating this low carbon society we need. The industry knows that if they aren’t up to the job then they’ll get a big bill because of the increased carbon price. So I think we had a good discussion with more than 300 stakeholders during the negotiations, we listened to everyone. That was reflected in the big political support in the final vote.

So now it’s purely up to the Commission to keep an eye on member states?

It is now up to the Commission, yes, to monitor implementation but I too will be keeping an eye out! I also think that a number of the industries and NGOs involved with this will keep tabs on their governments. Countries now have a responsibility to estimate the wider benefits of renovation, including health and indoor climate. That has to be included in their plans.

Horizon 2020 projects like REVALUE have tried to look into the cost-effective nature of renovations that you mentioned, it tried to find if there was a link between energy performance and property value. As the business case is talked up more and more, will this become less of a niche issue?

This directive is incredibly important for the whole sustainability strategy of Europe. I hope that it will become mainstream. We’ll see a lot of new things in the coming years because there are a lot of easy fixes we can make, like building automation, and they can be prioritised. These extra features, if you like, can be bolted onto the existing EPBD framework now.

But despite buildings taking up so much of our final energy demand, it’s still not something that people talk about…

Probably because it’s not so sexy! It’s still obvious that when a family has a certain budget to spend, they’re likely to go for the new kitchen rather than building renovation! But healthier buildings are going to be great value for those families and wider society.

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What’s left to be done before the next EU elections in May?

I was happy to get the EPBD through, we were the first out of the Clean Energy files but now we need to get it all finished. I think Europe’s going to be among the best in terms of industrial leadership, energy efficiency, buildings. There’s so much opportunity for growth and if we get it right, we’ll see export growth in those utilities, including know-how and securing economic value. Another one of my hopes is the issue of public funding. We have a lot of it from many sources, including LIFE and cohesion funds. But we have to understand that in order to nail the big success, we need to get private money working in this. Pension funds in Europe are allocating a lot of money over the last few years. If we have the right politicians to bring this forward, secure strong long-term renovation strategies, I think a lot of private companies will see this as a big opportunity. It’s easy to make new investments in new buildings, it’s the existing ones that need the focus.

And what’s the plan for after the EU elections?

When my Parliament colleagues go on the campaign trail, I’ll probably go on a motorbike tour of Europe, because I will be leaving the EP. I’ve been elected for my party at local level, national level and European level for the last 30 years. It’s time for a change and to leave it for the next generation.

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