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Commission rolls up its sleeves for job ahead

While Europe's political leaders have been coming to agreement on a new policy framework for more use of renewable energy and less use of fossil fuels, the European Commission is charged with making sure it all happens. The first step is to decide the legal base on which new legislation is to be enacted. That process is already turning out to be problematic and an "absolute disaster" could be just around the corner, says Christian Kjaer of the European Wind Energy Association. This story is linked to the article "Start Signal for an Energy Revolution" .

Agreeing a policy is just the first step. Passing legislation to implement that policy is the hard part. The Commission has an ambitious schedule to table legislation bythe autumn

Commission rolls up its sleeves for job ahead

While Europe's political leaders have been coming to agreement on a new policy framework for more use of renewable energy and less use of fossil fuels (previous story), the European Commission is charged with making sure it all happens. The first step is to decide the legal base on which new legislation is to be enacted. That process is already turning out to be problematic and an "absolute disaster" could be just around the corner, says Christian Kjaer of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

The assumption in the renewables lobby had been that new legislation would be based on the first sub-paragraph of article 175 of the EU treaty, along with most other EU environmental laws, including the existing renewable electricity directive and the emissions trading scheme directive. It allows laws to be amended and for Europe's heads of government to pass them by qualified majority in the Council in a joint decision making process with the European Parliament. But at a seminar last month, a commission official admitted that some EU governments are pressuring for the new legislation to be based on the second sub-paragraph of article 175, reports ENDS Europe Daily.

This means that national governments would have to pass the law unanimously while the parliament would play no part in the decision making process. It would give each of the 27 member states an effective veto, putting the whole agreed policy at risk, says Kjaer. "It would be completely and utterly ignoring the democratically elected parliament," he says. "This is a clear way of trying to put an obstruction in the way of getting an effective directive in place."

Before the newly agreed political target for 20% renewable energy by 2020, re-examination of the current support system for renewables in each member country had long been on the Commission's program for this year. It must consider once again if different support structures for renewable energy should be allowed to continue, or if a single pan-European system of support would be for the greater good.

Single support system

For more than a decade Europe has been in the process of implementing a single energy market. The aim is to bring down national barriers to cross border trade to reduce the price of energy and increase security of supply. It is the Commission's belief that forging the plethora of national renewable energy support systems into one European market should be part of this process. But fierce resistance to the concept of a "one size fits all" support system from national renewables lobbies has forced the Commission in the past to abandon concrete action. Officials in Brussels last looked at the issue in 2005. They concluded then that it was too early to compare the success of different mechanisms when some, like markets based on trade of green energy certificates, had not had enough time to prove themselves.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas sees a single system of support for renewables as one of the key elements of energy policy. "This EU-wide support scheme would need to be compatible with both the Emissions Trading Scheme and the internal energy market," he says. "It would also need to take into account the policies of those member states that have a well functioning policy on renewable energy."

What remains unclear is whether, having reassessed the success so far of national support measures, the Commission will once again defer a decision for action. Even if it chooses to press ahead with a requirement for governments to harmonise their support systems there is no indication if these proposals would be linked to current efforts at creating a framework for Europe to meet the 20% by 2020 target now agreed upon by politicians.

Also later this year, the Commission intends to produce a strategic energy technology plan (SET-Plan) as part of its new energy policy for Europe. Some EUR 1 billion will be invested each year between 2007 and 2013 in energy research and innovation. The aim is to bring down the cost of renewables, improve efficient use of energy, and place European industry at the forefront of global low carbon technologies. The Commission hopes to present a first SET-Plan to Europe's heads of government one year from now.

Strategic research

It envisages co-ordinated research over a broad portfolio of energy technologies, both into technology and into the correct policy framework for stimulating low carbon technologies and removal of institutional barriers to deployment of clean energy technologies. The Commission will look at the most appropriate policy and research instruments for each technology taking account of their needs at different stages of development.

A better use of research money is also sought. National energy research programs often target the same technologies, with different research centres competing for investment funding. The Commission wants to see more co-ordination of research efforts. This is also one of the aims of the existing seventh framework program for co-ordinated European research, which allocates EUR 886 million annually to energy. A further EUR 100 million is available each year under the Intelligent Energy-Europe program. The Commission wants to see member states and industry match this budget.

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