Analysis: Nuclear scores over renewables under EC proposals

EUROPE: The European Commission's proposal for 27% of electricity to be generated by renewables by 2030 -- with no responsibility for individual countries to meet the target -- has been dismissed as a "sham" by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

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The association is encouraging EU heads of state to vote for binding national targets when they meet on 20 March.

The EC claims in its Impact Assessment on the policy framework for 2020-2030 that the "pull" effect of greenhouse gas reduction will lead to a renewables share of 27% in 2030 if the greenhouse gas target is set at 40%. Declaring a 27% target for the EU as a whole thus looks like fancy packaging for business-as-usual.

The European parliament responded a few days later by voting against the EC framework, recommending a separate and nation-specific renewables target of at least 30% in 2030. A letter from eight countries — France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Italy and Portugal — was sent to the commission advocating this approach on 5 February. Europe is split on the issue, with those countries that have built up a substantial manufacturing industry in renewables largely in favour of binding renewable targets, and those that import the required technology, or rely heavily on nuclear power, largely against.
Austria's wind federation IG Windkraft says the EC package is a homage to the nuclear industry, which lobbied hard for a single greenhouse gas target because this could also be reached with nuclear power. The recent flurry of new nuclear project announcements across the continent now seems no coincidence despite nuclear's expense and problems that include operational safety, security and the cost of long term radioactive waste storage.

New nuclear plans

The UK government proposes a 35-year payment of roughly Eurocent 10.9/kWh (also adjusted for inflation over the period) to the consortium that includes French nuclear giant Areva (parent of offshore wind company Areva Wind) that is planning the new 3,200MW Hinkley Point nuclear power station. The slated generation cost is considerably higher than for onshore wind, which in Germany is less than Eurocent 9/kWh and expected to drop to Eurocent 4.95/kWh after just five years of operation at very good sites.

Poland's economy ministry presented plans on 29 January 2014 for two new nuclear reactors, the first to be completed by 2025. On 14 January, Hungary signed an agreement with Russia for two reactor units at its Paks site. Spain is now reportedly considering extending the lifetime of its reactors beyond 40 years. The Czech Republic announced plans for two new reactors at its Temelin site in early 2013. Yet already inflexible nuclear generation is blocking the transmission networks and hindering expansion of renewable energies, says IG Windkraft.

The UK and Czech Republic governments were explicitly against setting a firm target for renewable expansion to 2030. In the consultation of member states completed in July 2013, the UK argued only for a 40% reduction target in greenhouse gases from 1990 levels claiming its upcoming Electricity Market Reform with Contracts for Difference will bring on investment in nuclear, renewable, and carbon capture and storage — signficantly stated in that order — while its Carbon Price Floor will provide long-term certainty to electricity generators "acting as a backstop in providing continued certainty to investors in low carbon generation when the EU carbon price is low."

The UK's Renewable Energy Association's initial impression, posted on 27 January 2014, is that an EU-wide renewables target, without binding targets for specific member states, will give only very limited impetus for expanding renewables in the UK. The Confederation of British Industry in contrast said: "This package puts us on the right path to delivering a competitive, low-carbon future. It's important that member states have flexibility to decarbonise in the most cost-effective way."
The Czech Republic's wind and renewables sectors are close to being wiped out. The Czech parliament passed a renewable energy act amendment in August 2013 which effectively eliminates end support for renewables plants after 2014.

In the consultation, Denmark and Austria's government's were perhaps most clearly in favour of a separate renewables target.


The German federal government did not respond, but is preparing its own new renewables targets. If not delayed by opposition from industry associations and federal state governments, the new German renewables act could take effect from August 2014.

A major conflict is brewing in Germany over the planned "breathing cap" of 2.4-2.6GW a year for onshore wind, substantially lower than the 3GW installed in 2013, because planning uncertainty and therefore financing costs increase just when many federal states want to speed up their wind developments.
Under the breathing cap mechanism, already used to sharply brake solar power expansion, a regular quarter-year assessment of the previous 12 months expansion will set a decrease (or increase) in payment per kWh (yet to be fixed) for wind farms commissioned 12 months later. The initial payment is fixed for five years, then adjusted according to wind quality at the location for the ensuing 15 years. The lowest rate will be Eurocent 4.95/kWh or just above current peak wholesale electricity prices on the Franco-German EPEX Spot electricity exchange.

From 2017, however, German onshore wind expansion will be steered by tendering for new capacity, a radical change partly prompted by the EC's drive for more market elements in renewables support. Another dramatic change will be expiry of the classic feed-in-tariff (FIT) mechanism when the new renewable energy act takes effect. Electricity from all renewables plants with 500kW or more will have to be marketed in a system that resembles the UK's planned contracts for differences. It remains to be seen whether these changes can all be implemented as proposed, or whether the Upper House, representing the federal states, pushes for other measures.


As one of the eight countries pushing for a renewables target, France broadly welcomed the Commission's proposals, particularly its recommendation for a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, noting that President Hollande has called for such a cut on numerous occasions. "These ambitious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support renewable energy development are essential to give a long-term signal to energy stakeholders and investors to fully engage the European energy transition, and for the credibility of European engagement in the fight against climate change," energy minister Philippe Martin said.

But the French wind industry is disappointed by the lack of ambition in the renewables target and sceptical about a target that is only binding at the EU level. "No one understands how this will work," said Jean-Louis Bal, president of renewable energy trade association SER.

The industry is calling on the government to push for a higher target in the EU framework, and for it to take the lead at a national level in the forthcoming law on energy transition. An ambitious binding target "is a necessary condition for greening our energy sources," said Frédéric Lanoë, president of the French Wind Energy Association. France is committed to cutting the share of nuclear in its energy mix to 50% by 2050, which should work in favour of renewables deployment, at least in the mid-term.

The government will also be keen to protect the 11,000 jobs created by the industry and to capitalise on the increasingly competitive costs offered by onshore wind. "It would be counter-productive to harm an industry that has so much potential and clearly needs a strong home market," Lanoë argues.

In the meantime, the industry is more concerned that the government make good on its promises to simplify the regulatory framework. Then France would at least be able to meet its 2020 target, albeit somewhat delayed.

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