Who is trying to kill EU ambition on renewables and energy savings?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Lobbyists are all to keen to focus on the economic benefits of sticking with fossil fuels, sweeping the huge asociated health risks under the carpet. [Shutterstock]

In one week the European Commission is expected to present its big energy package for 2030. It remains uncertain if the optimistic promises to put energy efficiency first and make the EU a global leader in renewable energy will be fulfilled, writes Roland Joebstl.

Roland Joebstl is policy officer for climate and energy at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Media reports suggest the Commission is set to give into hard lobbying by the fossil fuel industries and ignore the advice of its own experts, science and calls from NGOs for ambitious proposals for renewables and energy savings.

Europe continues to remain heavily dependent on coal, oil, gas and nuclear, spending more than €1 billion every day on fossil fuel imports. But the economics of the global energy and power sector have changed.

The International Energy Agency has embraced energy efficiency as the largest contribution to decarbonisation and the balance of power has tilted from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Nevertheless, many major power companies have stuck to their fossil fuel-based business models and continue to try to defend the status quo. Unsettled by the impact of the clean energy transition that sent power stocks tumbling to all-time lows, power companies and their lobbying outfit in Brussels, Eurelectric, has been pushing the Commission on the 2030 package.

Their joint interest: to push back on increasing ambition for the 2030 package and undo important advancements in the field of renewable energy.

The group has targeted four parts of the package where the Commission could increase ambition:

First, the group called for European policies for renewable energy rather than the existing binding member state targets for 2020. The now expected EU-binding 2030 renewables target of barely 27% will fail to hold any member state accountable and largely resemble the power companies’ single-target-demand.

Secondly, Eurelectric has pushed for priority and financial support for renewable energy to be phased-out with the expected result that the current rule that wind or solar have priority over coal and nuclear when feeding into the grid is set to be history for new installations.

Thirdly, the fossil fuel industries called for a new way to subsidise their ageing coal and nuclear power plants in the form of “technology neutral” capacity mechanisms which do not take into account any environmental standards and mainly benefit coal and nuclear.

Fourthly, Eurelectric and its supporters warned of “over ambition” for energy efficiency days before the so-called Winter Package is revealed.

Leaks of the soon to be published proposals indicate that steps one, two and three are likely to be successfully achieved with the energy efficiency target the only glimmer of hope that remains.

Concerning the energy efficiency target, Eurelectric has raised doubts with the age-old tactic of questioning the Commission’s work on efficiency and the robustness of its impact assessment. Calculations by the EU executive show that increasing ambition on energy efficiency from 27% to 40% will increase average real income for all households by 2%, create jobs for 860,000 people and cut air pollution, saving 18 million life years or 225,00 lives, between now and 2030.

Eurelectric, however, prefers to keep its analysis limited to potential economic benefits and investments, repeating its fairy-tale vision of “clean coal” and preferring to lay the blame for failures of the EU Emissions Trading System at the door of policies such as the Renewable Directive and energy efficiency rather than problems inherent in the ETS itself.

There is only one week left before the publication of the energy package: the credibility of the Commission and the whole of the EU as a leader in the fight against climate change and in the push for a clean and smart energy transition is at stake.

Without an ambitious package that enshrines a binding and ambitious energy efficiency target, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will break his promise that a binding 30% energy efficiency target is the minimum for him.  It’s now the time to deliver!

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