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Europe signs up to historic renewables legislation -- Wind power to take the lead in meeting mandate for 20% greeen energy across EU by 2020

"Today, tomorrow changed," said Christian Kjaer from the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) on the day Europe's parliament and national governments reached an historic agreement on a new renewable energy law that commits Europe to getting 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from a baseline of 8.5%. Wind energy will be the biggest contributor, points out EWEA.

Kjaer calls the Renewable Energy Directive "the world's most important energy law." For the first time, each European Union country has signed up to a national legally binding target for the renewables content of its total energy consumption. As much as 40% of Europe's electricity is to come from renewables by 2020 (table next page).

Countries will be able to determine their own mix of energy sources between the electricity, transport and heating and cooling sectors to meet their national targets, but the directive stipulates that at least 10% of transport must be powered by renewables. Electricity is expected to make the biggest contribution, with 35% of Europe's power coming from renewables. EWEA says that by 2020 wind will provide 35% of all renewables-generated power, overtaking hydro to become the dominant renewable energy technology.

Flexibility

A certain amount of flexibility is built into the directive to help member states meet their targets most cost-effectively. Countries may agree a "statistical" transfer of an amount of renewable energy from one member state to another; they can co-operate on joint projects; or they can co-ordinate their renewables support mechanisms to share renewable targets.

But these flexibility provisions fall far short of the EU-wide trading system in renewable certificates -- or guarantees of origin (GO) -- that the European Commission had originally proposed. The concept of forcing one single market for trade of green power, which would have required dismantling national market frameworks, met with fierce resistance from some countries and the European parliament. GOs will now have the sole function of proving that energy is produced from renewable sources. The directive also allows countries to count electricity imports from new renewables plants in non-EU countries towards their targets.

To speed up renewables delivery, the directive demands that countries streamline their permitting and authorisation procedures for green power plant. It also tackles obstacles in the way of getting green power to consumers, directing that authorisation of new power lines should be speeded up and transmission and distribution system operators must provide either priority access or guaranteed access for renewable energy.

The proposal for a new renewables law was first tabled by the Commission -- the EU's executive arm -- in January 2008. But its progress through the European law-making process was nearly scuppered by proposed biofuel targets for transport and a call by Italy for a 2014 review of the legislation.

Compromises

In a series of compromise amendments, the 10% transport from renewables goal was retained, but electric vehicles and trains will count towards the target as well as biofuels. The 2014 review date remains, but that review will not revisit the overall 20% target; instead it will serve to improve the efficiency of the flexibility mechanisms, if needed.

Soon after negotiators from the EU parliament and the Council, representing national governments, agreed on the compromise amendments, a summit of heads of state rubber stamped the directive and parliament voted overwhelmingly for the legislation last month -- keeping to the original timetable for it to be passed into law by the end of 2008, to the surprise of many commentators.

Delight

"We have voted to put renewable energy first in Europe," says the parliament's draftsman and negotiator on the directive, Claude Turmes. Calling the 20% by 2020 target "ambitious," Turmes says it ensures that Europe will achieve its renewables potential.

"Europe has turned away from transferring ever larger amounts of European citizens' wealth to a handful of fuel-exporting nations, opting instead to put the money to work at home and exploit our abundant domestic renewable energy resources," Kjaer comments. He adds: "The grid and administrative barriers whose shadows loom long over wind energy project developers will finally be tackled throughout Europe."

Member states have until June 2010 to produce action plans detailing how they propose to reach their national targets and their "indicative trajectory" in the run-up to 2020. By 2011-12 they should be 20% of the way towards the target; 30% by 2013-14; 45% by 2015-16 and 65% by 2017-18. Countries will have to report on progress every two years. These measures will lead to real progress in the 27 countries, states Kjaer. "Furthermore, member states will be able to work together to meet their targets under stable market conditions, which will give investments in the wind energy sector a boost."

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