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Budget plans to boost energy infrastructure

EUROPEAN UNION: A massive boost to EU funding for the region's energy infrastructure, including new grid connections to accommodate the rapid growth of onshore and offshore wind power, appears likely under budget plans for 2014-20.

Unveiled last month by the European Commission, the EU's executive body, the 2014-20 draft budget also includes funding for energy via the EU's research and development (R&D) programme and cohesion funds, which are used to reduce economic differentials between EU countries. Member states, however, often fail to spend the cohesion funds they have been allocated (see table), so wind might not benefit from all funds included in the budget.

Under the draft budget, EUR9.1 billion is allocated for the creation of energy priority corridors to improve the flow of electricity, gas and oil. This represents an enormous increase on the EUR163 million earmarked for energy infrastructure in the current budget.

The draft budget is being debated among the EU's 27 member states in the Council of Ministers and will also need approval from the European Parliament.

EU insiders believe it will be a long, drawn-out battle to secure approval for any increases in funding, given the challenging economic climate currently facing the EU. However, there is awareness that renewables cannot grow significantly unless adequate network connections are put in place. There is also confidence that a planned doubling of R&D funding for renewables will win enough support to proceed.

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) estimates that wind power should receive EUR186 million annually for R&D from the EU during 2014-20. This would complement national-government funding and industry investment to make up the EUR6 billion budget identified for this decade under the joint industryand EU-led European Wind Initiative roadmap.

Priority connections

In energy infrastructure proposals issued last November, the European Commission outlined four priority grid connections needed to improve energy security and achieve the EU's 2020 goals to source 20% of energy from renewables and to cut CO2 emissions by 20% against 1990 levels. The new budget needs to reflect these political commitments, said Vilma Radvilaite, regulatory affairs advisor at EWEA.

Detailed decisions about how the money available will be divided between budget areas - namely infrastructure, research and development, and cohesion funds - and between different renewable technologies will only be taken once the budget is fixed. "Given wind's leading role among renewables in Europe, we are confident that any increase in funds for renewables will benefit wind as long as the wind industry plays it right," an EWEA spokesman said.

The commission is due to release more details about its 2014-20 spending plans in the autumn.

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