Renewables and rural development should go hand-in-hand, say auditors

An auditors report warned that the potential for renewable energy to increase rural development is going underdeveloped under the current system. [Shutterstock]

Current Europe-wide policies on renewable energy are not linked closely enough to rural development, according to a report by the European Court of Auditors, which took the Commission and member states to task for failing to take local needs into account.

The report by the Court of Auditors has warned that the EU could do more to link its renewable energy policies with rural development, just as the institutions start discussing updated rules for post-2020, insisting that there is a lot of untapped potential being squandered under the current framework.

After visiting five member states to assess the impact of EU funding, particularly through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), the auditors concluded that countries are either not using the funding to prioritise renewable projects or are investing in schemes with very little impact on rural areas as a whole.

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The Court pointed out in its findings that pumping money into renewable energy projects has the potential to increase sustainable rural development, as well as the more obvious effect of contributing to EU-wide and national energy targets.

Samo Jereb, the Court’s lead on the report, said that the Commission “has not provided sufficient clarification or guidance” on up-to-date information on financial support, either under the EAFRD or more generally.

In a list of recommendations, the auditors called on the EU executive to require the member states to make sure the right information is made available in their 2019 implementation reports.

They also urged the Commission to make it clear that national capitals should only allocate money to “viable renewable energy projects with a clear benefit for sustainable rural development”, after concluding that Austria, Bulgaria, Italy and France had used “weak selection procedures”.

Three solar power projects in Bulgaria had a limited impact on job creation and rural development, according to the auditors, who also pointed out that the Commission had recommended that investments in photovoltaics were ill-advised due to the country’s grid capacity limitations.

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But the report did highlight some success stories where funds had been used effectively, including a district-heating scheme in Austria and measures to reduce the carbon footprint of a Tuscan winery.

Negotiations are currently ongoing between the Commission, Council and Parliament on an update to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II). The auditors, in fact, said the EU executive’s 2016 clean energy proposals could “unlock the potential that exists in rural areas”.

More specifically, the report praised the Governance Regulation, currently also being discussed in the trilogue, and provisions for small-scale renewable projects in RED II as “useful steps”.

Bulgaria, the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, has indicated that it would like to close the two files before its six-month stint in charge comes to a close.

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