EU Parliament wins plaudits for backing 35% renewables target

The wind power industry hailed a measure voted on by Parliament that will require EU Member States to give five years’ visibility up front on their public support for renewables. [Peter Rood / Flickr]

European lawmakers approved draft measures on Wednesday (17 January) to raise the share of renewable energy to 35% of the EU’s energy mix by 2030, setting the stage for tough talks with reluctant EU member states in the coming weeks.

Under the plan backed by the European Parliament, renewable energy would account for at least 35% of the EU’s overall energy use by 2030.

Last month, EU national governments agreed a target of 27%, disappointing environmental campaigners who see it as too little to combat climate change.

EU ministers stumble towards joint position on future energy laws

Energy ministers on Monday (18 December) took well over 15 hours to agree common positions on four clean energy draft pieces of EU legislation ahead of a final round of talks in 2018 with the European Parliament and Commission.

Wednesday’s vote won plaudits from across the renewable energy industries, including the wind and solar power trade associations.

WindEurope, a lobby group, said the difference between 27 and 35% could mean €92 billion less in future investments for the sector, praising the Parliament for raising the EU’s ambition.

The wind power industry particularly hailed a measure voted on by Parliament that will require EU member states to give five years’ visibility up front on their public support for renewables.

“Knowing in advance the volumes and timing of national renewable auctions is crucial to guide investments in the supply chain,” said Giles Dickson, the CEO of WindEurope. “Visibility means industry can plan, it means equipment is available when people want it, it means economies of scale,” Dickson said in a statement, adding this will make renewables even more affordable.

Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU’s climate action Commissioner, was gushing in his praise, congratulating MEPs for “aiming high with renewables” and energy efficiency directives. Taking to Twitter, he added that the European Commission “will do its utmost to facilitate an ambitious agreement” during final talks with EU member states.

The draft renewable energy directive also envisage banning the use of palm oil, a major import from southeast Asia, in motor fuels from 2021, drawing an angry response from the Malaysian government, which called the move a protectionist trade barrier and a form of “crop apartheid”.

EU Parliament ends palm oil and caps crop-based biofuels at 2017 levels

The European Parliament decided today (17 January) to phase-out palm oil by 2021 and cap the crop-based biofuels at the 2017 member states’ consumption levels and no more than 7% of all transport fuels until 2030.

The renewable energy directive aims at helping the European Union meet its overall goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, following the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees.

The Parliament, the executive European Commission and EU national governments must now sit down and hammer out a final compromise on the text before it becomes law.

Positions

* EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT *

Seán Kelly is an Irish MEP who is shadow rapporteur on the renewable energy directive for the the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political faction in Parliament.

He said: "The Parliament has today made an important statement: that we want Europe to be the world leader on renewable energy, that we want to empower citizens to participate in the energy transition, that we want to give certainty and visibility to investors, and indeed that we are serious about tackling climate change".

"The compromise, which was hard won, strikes the right balance between being cost-effective, and showing the needed levels of ambition. The costs of renewables are falling rapidly; the 35% overall target, along with the heat target, and the 12% transport target are more than achievable, and will drive the investments that will help to decarbonise all sectors".

Claude Turmes, a Green lawmaker from Luxembourg, lauded Parliament for supporting a 35% renewable energy target but warned it was “the bare minimum” to meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees.

He also insisted on measures voted by Parliament that he said will boost investor confidence in renewables and give citizens a more active role in the clean energy transition.

"If the transition is to be made in time, investors must have confidence that renewables projects are viable. The framework we have suggested will give them the assurances they need. But the renewables transition should not just benefit a precious few. We worked hard to make sure that all citizens are included in the renewable revolution, creating a framework and a new set of rights to enable the public to produce, store, sell and share their own energy. This will help citizens reap the full benefits of the transition towards renewables."

* ON SMALL-SCALE RENEWABLES *

The European consumer organisation, (BEUC), lauded a provision voted on by Parliament that encourages consumers to take an active part in the electricity market by allowing them to feed renewable energy into the grid.

“If more consumers produce energy through solar panels, it is a win-win situation,” said Monique Goyens, BEUC’s director general: “Consumers win by paying lower energy bills, and the energy system becomes cleaner and less reliant on foreign fossil fuels”.

Proposals that received support from the Parliament include giving consumers the right to produce and consume their own energy, to be remunerated at least at market price when they feed their electricity into the grid, and to remove the requirement for small solar energy installations to get a permit if they want to connect to the grid, BEUC said in a statement.

Lawmakers also voted to allow third parties to own solar power installations on the roofs of multi-storey buildings, which would allow tenants to benefit from them, the consumer group said.

“The Parliament now heads for tricky negotiations with Member States, but with a strong mandate on consumers helping to power the energy transition. The future looks cleaner, greener and cheaper if the Parliament sticks to its guns,” Goyens said.

Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, also hailed Parliament for strengthening rules supporting people producing their own electricity at home or joining an energy cooperative. This includes measures to ensure that self-consumed electricity is free from punitive charges, levies and taxes, Greenpeace said, praising EU lawmakers for supporting measures that would effectively make Spain’s controversial ‘sun tax’ illegal under EU rules.

“Unlike governments across Europe that are blocking communities from phasing out dangerous coal and nuclear in favour of renewables, the Parliament strongly backs citizens’ rights to harvest and sell their own energy from sun and wind,” said Sebastian Mang, Greenpeace EU energy policy adviser.

Dirk Vansintjan is President of REScoop.eu, the European federation of renewable energy cooperatives. He also praised Parliament, saying in a statement that EU lawmakers have acknowledged that citizens and energy communities “must be brought along for Europe’s energy transition to succeed.”

“This presents huge economic and social opportunities for local communities across Europe,” Vansintjan continued, “because there are already numerous examples of energy communities using local ownership and supply of renewables to fund initiatives like energy efficiency, smart grids, energy poverty and local development.”

* ON RENEWABLE HEATING AND COOLING *

Industry associations in the renewable heating and cooling sector were less cheerful, however.

On the positive side, they lauded the Parliament for requiring national governments to adopt measures to decarbonise the heating and cooling sector.

And although they praised lawmakers for backing an annual increase of 2 percentage points for renewables used in heating and cooling by 2030, they regretted that the target was not made legally binding on EU countries.

“As Member States are not held to a binding target and retain important flexibility and loopholes, uncertainty for renewables in heating and cooling remains,” warned a joint statement by trade associations in the biomass, solar heating and geothermal energy sectors (AEBIOM, Solar Heat Europe, and EGEC Geothermal).

And even though they welcomed provisions requiring member states to report regularly on progress made towards meeting the annual objective, they said this was only “a bare minimum to keep Member States accountable.”

Others in the heating and cooling business were more upbeat, however – such as Anton Koller, who heads the district energy division at Danfoss, the Danish engineering group.

In an e-mailed statement to EURACTIV, he said Parliament “has understood the crucial importance of heating and cooling in the achievement of the energy transition”.

“The agreement reached today sets a strong direction for the transformation of the district energy sector. It will facilitate the realisation of the full potential of district energy, not only in terms of refurbishment and growth but also in terms of its ability to integrate variable heat sources, excess heat that would otherwise be wasted, and sector coupling.”

Koller also praised Parliament for setting up a “strong monitoring tool” to ensure energy and climate objectives are met. “With the agreement reached today, we are more confident that we are heading in the right direction,” Koller said.