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Serious fear of a twilight zone -- European energy policy

The lack of separate targets for the contribution renewables should make to heating/cooling, transport and electricity is a serious shortcoming of the European Commission's new energy strategy, warns Europe's renewable energy industry. Without so-called "sectoral" targets, the Commission risks undermining existing successful legislation which has seen Europe become the world leader in wind and other renewables, they say.

Central to the Commission's proposed new direction for renewables -- outlined last month in its Renewable Energy Roadmap -- is a binding overall European target of 20% of energy from renewables by 2020, accompanied by a 10% binding target for transport biofuels by 2020. These, the Commission intends, will be backed by binding national targets for renewable energy. But without sectoral targets, each country is left to decide on the best renewables mix for its own national interests.

The roadmap forms part of a comprehensive energy and climate change package aimed at increasing Europe's security of supply, combating global warming and increasing competitiveness. The major plank of the new package is a 20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. But the EU wants to see a greater level international action by industrial nations on climate change, proposing a more ambitious cut of 30% if others follow suit.

Nuclear and clean coal

The package also contains a new emphasis on nuclear, plans for clean coal, unbundling of transmission businesses from vertically integrated energy companies to level the playing field for new independent generators, and a plan of priority transmission interconnections between member states' energy networks (page 52).

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) welcomes the last two measures, but argues that sectoral targets are needed. Renewables have had most success by far in the electricity sector, says EWEA's Christian Kjaer, thanks to individual national targets for green electricity laid out in the EU's 2001 renewable energy directive. "It is working. Electricity from renewables -- excluding large hydro -- has doubled over the period 2000-2004."

Kjaer warns that a new legislative package to implement the Commission's proposals will take some four to five years to work its way through the EU machine. This will be a twilight zone for existing renewables laws, he says. Countries will be less motivated to meet existing obligations, which they know will be superseded. "No member state will take the existing renewables directive seriously." EWEA calls on the commission to provide measures in its legislative package to safeguard existing renewables laws.

Meantime, the industry awaits the meeting of countries' leaders at the Spring European Council in March, where the Commission's proposals will be debated. In the past, the Council has been consistently hostile to binding national targets. The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) warns that if, true to form, it rejects the Commission's call for 20% renewables by 2010, the proposed energy strategy provides no fall-back and little would have been achieved.

The Commission, though, appears to believe that in co-operation with the European parliament, which strongly backs binding targets for renewables, it will be able to convince the Council. If it is successful, and provided the legal stability of renewable electricity is assured, EWEA says the energy strategy has the potential to be a "leap forward for wind power."

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