Commission defends new energy rules and climate ambition

Maroš Šefčovič, and Miguel Arias Cañete present the Winter Package. [European Commission]

The European Commission today (30 November) defended its 30% energy efficiency target, as opposed to the higher goal called for by MEPs and campaigners, as it unveiled “clean energy“ plans to boost renewable use, cut waste and reduce subsidies for coal power.

The executive’s Winter Package of new energy rules is part of its push to meet the EU’s international climate commitments in the Paris Agreement. World leaders agreed to cap global warming at no more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

“We will help Europe turn the Paris agreement into concrete action,” claimed Miguel  Arias Cañete, the EU’s Climate Action and Energy Commissioner.

But environmental groups criticised the 28-nation EU for doing too little to end subsidies for carbon-spewing coal power plants and said the plans did not go far enough.

The Commission wants to raise binding energy efficiency targets to 30% by 2030 under the
sweeping package of measures. This is higher than the 27% EU leaders had agreed in October 2014, which would also not be binding.

The Commission today boosted that to the same level that it originally put forward to member states, pointing to the Paris Agreement as reason for the increased ambition.

The European Parliament which must ultimately agree an identical law with member states, has twice backed a 40% target.

Commission sets up EU's next energy efficiency battle

The European Commission will announce increased EU energy efficiency targets on Wednesday (30 November). But it will face resistance from member states opposed to binding, more ambitious rules, and from the European Parliament, which has demanded much higher goals.

Creating 400,000 new jobs

Energy Union Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič said 30% was the best solution after Commission analysis on cost-efficiency and benefits, and that it would create 400,000 new jobs.

“This is the most balanced approach we can have because an approach must be based on consensus,” Cañete said, “It is going to be a huge effort to achieve this across the 28 member states.

“You can put anything on paper but if you can’t implement it, it is meaningless. These are not soft targets, they are not easy targets.”

Under the Paris climate deal struck almost a year ago, the EU plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 over 1990 levels and make renewable energy account for 27% of energy use.

The Commission did not increase its 2030 renewable target, leaving it at the 27% called for at the October European Council.

Carbon-free electricity by 2050

In 2030, the EU aims to have half of the bloc’s electricity generation come from renewables like wind and solar power. By 2050, it hopes electricity will be free of carbon.

The package calls for making renewable energy increasingly market based, setting a regulatory framework designed to reassure investors and set a level playing field for different technologies.

“The new market rules sharpen price signals and promote a more flexible market,” Cañete said.

“Our proposals will boost trading across borders, create a level playing field for renewables, and remove barriers for new actors in the market, and ensuring certainty for investors,” he added.

The proposals on renewables also aim to promote more jobs in a sector that already employs more than one million people. The Commission said some 320,000 worked in the wind energy sector in 2014, five times more than 2005.

EU throws in the towel over national energy support schemes

EU member states have pressed ahead with a variety of schemes to remunerate energy generators for keeping power plants on stand-by, despite warnings from Brussels. It now seems certain that such “capacity mechanisms” will remain a fact of life, at least for the foreseeable future.

High-polluting fossil fuels

The 1,000-page package of measures – which still need to be approved by EU nations and the European Parliament – aims to overhaul the energy market and ensure the shift to clean energy.

The Commission is calling for reducing so-called capacity mechanisms, which are seen as government subsidies used to help power companies avoid electricity blackouts.

The mechanisms used or under consideration in Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden ensure that sufficient electricity supplies are available to meet demand during peak times.

But Cañete said, “Capacity mechanisms will not be used as a backdoor subsidy of high-polluting fossil fuels. That would go against our climate objectives.”

The means the EU has set a limit of 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour for new plants while giving time for existing capacity mechanisms to adapt to the new rules.

European companies criticise EU's lack of vision on renewables

As the European Commission publishes its long-awaited “Winter Package” of energy laws, European companies are speaking out on the need for binding national targets for renewable energies. EURACTIV France reports.

Molly Walsh, community power campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said, “Seeing citizens placed at the heart of the energy transition is a beacon of hope amongst an otherwise gloomy, fossil-fuel-heavy package. The European Commission has recognised the benefits of community-owned renewables and cooperatives, but is failing to kick its fossil fuel addiction, at the expense of the climate, and the Paris agreement.”

“We welcome the inclusion by the European Commission of a long-term vision until 2050 for the building stock in the EU”, said Alix Chambris, President of EuroACE, the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings. “However, we believe this vision should be further refined and given more detail in order to bring clarity for the sector, both industries and investors, who are ready to deliver.”

Brook Riley, climate and energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said, “The European Commission’s decision to increase the 2030 energy efficiency target will lift millions of people out of energy poverty, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and create jobs – but why stop at 30%? It’s disappointing that the Commission is so clear on the benefits of efficiency yet fails to come forward with proposals that meet its full potential.”

“We hope the “Winter Energy Union Package” will facilitate deep renovation in the private residential market as well as the relatively easy wins offered by retrofitting public buildings” said Kjetil Tonning, FIEC (European Construction Industry Federation) Vice President.  “We will be looking closely at the smart financing measures proposed and we hope that the recommendations of the Energy Efficiency Financial Institutions Group have been taken into account.”

“The publication of the Winter Package is a welcome move after months of uncertainty on energy efficiency legislation, but the European Commission could have gone further to provide real benefit to the economy, final consumers and the environment ” said Andrea Voigt, Director General of the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment.

Roland Joebstl, European Environmental Bureau climate and energy policy officer, said, “By proposing a mere 27% by 2030 goal for renewables, the Commission is proposing to slash their roll out by half the current rate in the next decade at a time when the rest of the world is picking up speed. Worse still, no effective measures are proposed to ensure that the bio-energy part of the energy mix is sustainable.”

"On energy efficiency the Commission has delivered its pre-Paris promise to increase ambition. This is a step forward, but many more benefits are within reach if the European Parliament introduces a 40% binding target and eliminates the loopholes in the Energy Efficiency Directive.”  

“The Commission is totally detached from reality if it expects that its proposal will result in significant investments in advanced biofuels, given that most of the potential investors have already been burned by the Commission's previous biofuels u-turns. ePURE calls on Member States and Parliament to seek the promotion of advanced biofuels in addition to the existing targets for the use of conventional biofuels,” said Robert Wright, Secretary-General of ePURE.

“The Commission has opted to sacrifice forests for energy. Burning forest biomass on an industrial scale for power and heating has proved disastrous. The evidence that its growing use will increase emissions and destroy forests in Europe and elsewhere is overwhelming.” said Linde Zuidema, Fern’s bioenergy campaigner. “Today’s proposal by the Commission lacks effective tools to ensure bioenergy actually achieves emission savings and is therefore a form of ‘greenwashing’.”

“The EU led the world on climate change. And the world has followed as the need for action becomes ever more urgent. But the Commission’s clean energy package is still too dirty.  Far from accelerating the energy transition the proposals leave the door open to subsidies for the next ten years,, undermine support for renewables, and miss some big opportunities on energy efficiency. The Commission also seems to think that a good way of tackling climate change is to burn more trees," said Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy at WWF European Policy Office.

“It is now up to the European Parliament and to the Council to add some backbone.  Without that, Europe will undermine the progress it has already made and miss out on the huge benefits that the energy transition bring, for our economies, our job opportunities, and our health."

“How is the EU planning to reach its 2050 objectives and its COP 21 commitments by keeping endorsing fossil fuels in its energy system?” said Jean-Marc Jossart, Secretary General of the European Biomass Association (AEBIOM).

“The Commission has rightly understood that we need more market principles and less state interventions, as well as more European coordination and less borders to the free flow of electricity,” stated Arnaldo Abruzzini, CEO of EUROCHAMBRES. “Applying market principles will keep costs down and ensure that the energy transition remains accepted by the public.”

Rémi Gruet, CEO of Ocean Energy Europe, said, ““These proposal give investors some visibility on support mechanisms, and simplifies procedures for demonstration projects. This is welcome for 2nd generation renewable like ocean energy, particularly as the weak headline target of 27% renewables won’t prompt much deployment.”

BusinessEurope Director General Markus J. Beyrer said, ““We support the Commission’s plan to further strengthen the functioning of the EU’s power market. The full integration of renewable electricity is essential. It is positive to put all energy sources on equal footing with clear responsibilities. We should get rid of distortions in the energy market caused by subsidies and decrease the energy costs for consumers.

“The increase of the energy efficiency ambition level to 30 per cent with binding nature weakens the EU’s efforts to strengthen the EU ETS system as the flagship of our decarbonisation goal. On top of that, comparing energy investments over the last decade with the Commission’s higher targets implies an increase in investments for the coming period by more than 400%. Such an approach is neither cost-effective, nor realistic”.

Jelena Simjanovic, clean energy director of Transport & Environment (T&E), said: “Despite all its promises four months ago about electrifying transport and stopping bad biofuels, this proposal means our cars and trucks will be burning almost as much palm oil and other food-based biodiesel in 2030 as they do today. The Commission again rushes into a huge market for new and unproven biofuels, but it does nothing to reward suppliers of clean electricity in transport. The inconvenient truth is that this proposal will not reduce Europe’s transport emissions to any meaningful extent.”

Giles Dickson, CEO of WindEurope, said: “We welcome the Commission’s package on renewables and market design.  But there is still a lot of work to do in the Parliament and the Council to ensure renewables investors stick with Europe after 2020.  If Europe is going to deliver on its goal to be number one in renewables, the Commission’s proposals have to be further developed. Crucially, member states have to produce meaningful national plans that map out how they are going to deliver their energy transition. And that means all Member States. Today only seven out of 28 have clear plans and policies in place for renewables beyond 2020.”

“In Europe, we have high energy prices which hurt our businesses and competitiveness vis-à-vis other regions of the world. Removing existing barriers and market distortions in the electricity market to increase competition will get the best deal for our consumers”, said Krišjānis Kariņš MEP, the EPP Group Spokesman in the European Parliament’s (EP) Committee for Industry, Research and Energy.

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