Renewables energy expert: “They are gambling away a huge opportunity”

Rainer Hinrichs-Rahlwes [Sun Wind Europe]

The EU has some big plans in Energy supply security and climate protection, as well as the targets of the Paris Agreement to meet. The road ahead seems bumpy, especially since leaked Commission documents revealed renewable energy will be bumped down the list of priorities. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Rainer Hinrichs-Rahlwes is a board member of the German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE).

He spoke to euractiv.de’s editor-in-chief Ama Lorenz.

The recently leaked Commission draft, which no longer prioritises renewable energy: did it catch you off guard?

What the Commission has been working on with regard to the Renewable Energies Directive recast, to remove or greatly reduce the priority for renewable energy, has been known to us for a few months. From what was leaked now, we can see  that at least some of our arguments were taken into account.

We are calling for the preservation of renewable energy prioritisation, for so long as markets aredistorted and the true costs of coal and nuclear are not internalized. Overcapacities in fossil fuels and nuclear energy have to be drastically reduced. Unfortunately, the draft does not achieve this. And even if there are some positive aspects in it, it is another blow to climate protection and decentralised energy supply that according to Commission plans even small installation will no longer be elegible for feed-in tariffs. This is the wrong direction to take.

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Especially if the climate targets of the Paris Agreement are to be taken seriously… 

They are about gambling away a huge opportunity. Renewable energy is cheap, domestically available and clean. Instead paving the way for renewables and speeding up the energy transition, they want to put the brakes on. It is unfortunate that innovative and sustainable industries will now be thwarted in favour of outdated and environmentally harmful ones.

According to the draft, as soon as green energy’s total share of power production reaches 15%, it will be capped. But there should be compensation made available as a result. Does that help the sector?

II have to correct something: no 15% cap on renewables is planned, but the draft suggests that even small systems will no longer be allowed to receive feed-in tariffs or priority access or dispatch, but – like all other installations – will have to succumb to market rules. A positive of the draft is that for the first time there will be compensation for curtailing wind and solar energy. How it will actually be implemented still needs to be worked out, however. It seems intended, however, that five to 10% of curtailment is basically accepted in the drafts. This is a bad idea.

It’s no secret that the Paris goals cannot be met through conventional means. There are even calls for a switch to 100% renewables.

The leaked proposals are certainly not enough to reach the Paris commitments and targets. The goal of a 27% renewables share by 2030 is simply not enough. Back in 2011, we called on Brussels to make that figure 45%. In addition to this insufficient EU-level target, the lack of binding national targets is a huge negative. There are not even suggestions of a fair share of each Member State to contribute to the joint target. With this in mind, it is also very problematic that the directive draft provides the European Commission with almost no way of sanctioning Member States that do not do enough to contribute to the EU target.

How do you explain this rigid adherence to conventional energy sources? Germany is no exception…

Obviously, the conventional energy lobby, which has been trying to prevent a reasonable framework being set up for 2030, is well positioned in Brussels. It’s a paradox: on the one side, it’s right to say that renewable energy is getting more important and cheaper. On the other hand, the Commission is planning market rules that are going to slow that down. Artificially-high must-run capacities for conventional energy or referencing to them as so-called bridging technologies do their part.

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Does that mean that in this case a bit less EU would be beneficial?

That’s a difficult question. In the case where member states want to establish higher targets than those established by the directive, they should be allowed to establish and use appropriate instruments, without without obliging them to use auctions as the only acceptable instrument. In many aspects we agree with proposals of the German government to improve the directive. But we see few member states who actually want to set faster pace. And also the German government was one who put the brakes on, with the recent amendments to the renewable energy law (EEG 2017).

So is the Energy Union a step in the right direction? Energy Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič said that the first rules are set to be published before the end of the year.

Since the very beginning, there have been repeated disputes over the scope of the EU’s energy competences. For me, the Energy Union is a new label, maybe a new coordination structure, under which processes can be optimised. One could call it a re-branding of some policy areas in European climate and energy politics. Whether the Energy Union will be something useful in the end will depend on whether it will be achieve more in renewable energies, energy efficiency and climate protection than we see from the leak.

You are attending the COP22 summit in Marrakesh. Do you see positive signs of a global energy transition?

It seems that in terms of operational matters, like financing for example, there is progress. Whether this will incentivize participating countries to really implementing theambitious goals with a stronger commitment and determination , will be seen. We’ll have to wait what will be the exact result of the conference. But I see and feel in the corridors among the participants in Marrakesh  stronger momentum towards renewables, in civil society, but also with big companies and several governments. As an example, our hosts, the Moroccans, have upped their renewable energy targets.

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Is the spectre of American climate policy haunting those same audiotoriums?

The attitude seems to be that Trump will not do as much damage as feared, because renewables are meanwhile not only, but their clearly positive economic impact has also been proved. So the energy transition will continue, even if Trump tries to slow it down a bit, but Renewables are unstoppable now.

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