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European renewables Directive back on track

Europe's energy ministers have steered the EU back on course for a Directive to help increase the share of electricity from renewables. At its meeting on May 11, the EU energy council told the commission, the EU's executive, to produce a concrete proposal for a framework allowing pan-European access for renewables to the internal electricity market.

The ministers' call for a Directive came after they debated a Commission working paper on electricity from renewables and the internal electricity market (Windpower Monthly, May 1999). The paper considers options for harmonising support for renewables across national boundaries and argues for a single competitive market for electricity from renewables alongside the internal electricity market.

As an official who attended the May 11 meeting observes: "A fairly strong message came out of the meeting, that instead of fiddling around with working papers, member states wanted to see a proposed Directive." His comment refers obliquely to the Commission's earlier aborted plans for just such a Directive, a draft of which was circulated in late 1998, though the Commission vigorously denied its existence. But this "virtual" draft Directive was abandoned in January after a campaign of opposition from the German renewables lobby, which wants to see the country's existing subsidy system retained. The Commission favours the use of market based support mechanisms.

Energy commissioner Christos Papoutsis has now indicated he intends to press ahead on a new Directive over the next few months. "The really good news is that . . . Papoutsis considers that bringing forward a Directive is part of his mandate and that this issue will not be transferred to the next Commission, which would create an unbearable delay," comments the European Wind Energy Association's Christophe Bourillon.

Competitive support

At the Energy Council meeting, ministers stressed that the proposed framework should allow member states to choose support measures which are best suited to their national circumstances. But the framework, they said, must eliminate obstacles to cross border trade in renewables. The council agreed with the Commission in preferring competitive support mechanisms. "The relative costs for renewable energy sources must be reduced so that they may become competitive with other energy sources as soon as possible," the council states. "This is in general best achieved through market-based instruments." Measures taken by member states and any community framework on access to the internal electricity market for renewables "must be oriented to this goal."

More controversial was the subject of legally binding targets for renewable energy adopted by each member state-favoured by Papoutsis. Nearly all ministers, with a notable exception being Denmark, rejected the idea, arguing it would not take account of different circumstances and would ignore subsidiarity. The ministers' position has not changed since June 1998 when they agreed to the renewable energy White Paper's 12% Europe-wide target providing there were no national targets.

Other issues the Ministers want covered by the framework are common principles for promoting renewables to limit market distortions, common principles for certifying renewable electricity, and non-discrimination in connecting renewables to electricity networks.

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