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Fierce criticism of draft European policy -- Energy green paper fails to set the stage for renewables

Lacking vision and without enough emphasis on renewable energy. That is the verdict of renewable energy lobby groups and some governments on the European Commission's green paper proposing an energy strategy for Europe, published last month. What is missing is any sign of aggressive action by the Commission to move Europe towards a clean indigenous energy supply, they say. This should start with long term mandatory targets for renewables.

There is no doubt Europe needs a common energy strategy, says Christian Kjaer, head of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). It would greatly help in the development of Europe's power supply systems for integration of large volumes of wind power on land and offshore. But renewables and energy efficiency should be a fundamental pillar of such a strategy. "The green paper contains the right elements but falls short of presenting a true vision that addresses the root of the challenge," he says. In two or three decades, Europe will be importing 70% of its energy from a handful of countries at unpredictable prices and at high environmental cost unless it takes a dramatic U-turn, adds Kjaer.

Oliver Schaefer of the European Renewable Energy Council, an umbrella body of European renewables trades associations, complains the green paper does not set out any new ideas. He points out that renewables can help meet the EU's key energy goals, such as increasing security of supply, protecting the climate, creating jobs and with no hidden external costs, but they need political support. Firm long term targets for the contribution of renewables are a pre-condition for guaranteeing stability and commitment for investment decisions, he says.

Road map

According to the green paper, "A European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy," the Commission will look into targets beyond 2010 and whether they should be binding under its plan for a Renewable Energy Road Map. But it refuses to be rushed into setting a 2020 target of 20% of energy from renewables as demanded by the European parliament. The road map will first push for existing targets in each EU member state to be met and ensure that measures are taken for a new community directive on renewables for heating and cooling, for a plan to reduce imported oil through greater use of biofuels and biomass, and for initiatives to bring renewables closer to markets.

The Green Paper sets out six overall priorities for a common energy policy: completion of the internal energy market, with a European grid, European grid code and a European energy regulator; greater collaboration between member states to enhance security of networks; a more sustainable and diverse energy mix -- to be informed by a Strategic EU Energy Review which would assess the advantages and drawbacks of all energy sources, including each of the renewables as well as coal and nuclear; measures to address climate change, including an energy efficiency action plan, the renewable energy road map and carbon capture and storage; a strategic energy technology plan to boost energy related research; and a common external energy policy covering the EU's relations with energy producer countries and responding to crisis situations.

Despite its criticism of the Green Paper, EWEA supports the Commission's proposal for a European energy regulator to look at cross border issues and its call for a single European grid. This should include an offshore grid, it says.

Generally critical

Reaction to the green paper in member states tends to be critical or at best lukewarm. Germany's environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, accuses the strategy proposal of focusing one-sidedly on security of energy supply and attacks its failure to set targets for renewables and to define a position for reducing climate gases beyond 2020. Germany's renewable energy association, Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energie, describes the green paper as "anaemic and unimaginative." It adds: "The Commission propagates a message of carry-on-as-usual instead of giving clear directions on more energy efficiency and expansion of renewable energies."

Greenpeace accuses the green paper of not daring to challenge the status quo. "It does not, for example, question the wisdom of an EU25 dominated by large centralised fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, nor ask how to make the uptake of renewable energy and efficiency binding," it says, referring to the 25 member states.

What is clear is that concern about Europe's future energy supply means that for the first time governments across Europe are agreeing that a common EU energy policy is needed. At their spring meeting last month, heads of government backed the call for a common energy policy made by energy ministers from the 25 EU states at an extraordinary Energy Council in Brussels earlier in March. The energy ministers identified 26 measures and recommended nine key actions for an energy plan. According to energy minister Martin Bartenstein of Austria, which currently holds the EU presidency, countries are demanding the right to retain sovereignty over their choice of energy sources -- including nuclear. Yet Europe has to diversify more and step up the use of renewables, he says.

At the spring council meeting, heads of government agreed that a common energy policy was necessary to ensure security of supply and environmental sustainability at an affordable price. They also backed a long term commitment to renewable energy and mentioned a possible target for 15% of electricity to come from new renewables by 2015. Today's target is 10% by 2010. Kjaer says the target is "a cautious step in the right direction" but notes it does not constitute a long term commitment. Green Member of Parliament Claude Turmes is more outspoken about his fears. "Despite the hyperbole surrounding renewables, most of the cash will go to nuclear," he says, pointing out references to "low emission technologies."

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