Europe renewables directive now close -- Determined efforts to forge agreement

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Informal negotiations between representatives of the European Parliament and the governments of EU member countries have resulted in compromises on a number of issues that were holding up progress of the long awaited renewable energy directive. This aims to double renewables' share of Europe's energy from 6% to 12% by 2010, giving renewables a 22.1% share of European community electricity consumption.

By June 20 both sides had reached agreement on all but one point -- and they were close to a compromise over the outstanding issue of whether municipal waste should be included as a renewable source under the directive. Agreement had even been reached on the thorny question of whether or not national targets for renewables should be binding on EU member states. The European Commission, the EU's executive body, is optimistic that the directive could now be adopted as law before the summer break this month -- provided the European Parliament of elected representatives and the European Council, made up of government ministers from EU member countries, can resolve the outstanding issue before Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) vote on the directive in early July.

All parties are anxious to avoid the conciliation process that would be the inevitable next step if the council rejects the parliament's amendments. Conciliation could add between four to six months to a process that has already taken two years since the commission first launched a proposal for a directive for a pan European renewable energy market. This would mean that the directive would then be unlikely to be adopted until the end of 2001.

Non binding targets

After the Council of Ministers in March adopted a common position on the directive, a series of informal discussions have been taking place between officials at the commission, the council and the parliament to speed up agreement on all sides. The council's common position endorses the commission's formal proposals of May 2000 -- namely national indicative targets for renewables for member states, a system of certifying the origin of green electricity, measures to allow renewables fair access to the internal electricity market, and continuation of member states' individual renewables support mechanisms until the commission introduces harmonised pan-European support arrangements with a seven year transition period to this market. The commission has indicated its strong preference for market-based support.

The main points of dissent between the council and the parliament were the issues of mandatory or indicative targets and whether the directive should embrace energy from waste and large scale hydro. The two issues are linked. Most member countries do not want to be tied down to legally binding objectives, and some such as the UK would find it more difficult to meet their indicative targets for renewables without energy from waste incineration. The parliament meantime has consistently demanded firm national targets and insists that municipal waste should not be promoted under the directive.

To resolve the impasse over binding targets, Mechthild Rothe, directive rapporteur and responsible for guiding it through the legislative process, is proposing that parliament agree to indicative national targets, but with a safeguard. If member states do not progress satisfactorily towards the targets, thus putting at risk the overall objective for the EU of 12% of energy from renewables, the commission should be able to impose mandatory targets on laggards.

EWEA accepts

This was a fall-back position urged by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). EWEA prefers binding targets, but accepts that continued intransigence over the issue would delay the directive. Last month EWEA's president, Klaus Rave, told MEPs: "If binding targets are not possible in the immediate term, the parliament should at the very least push the council to accept a process for setting binding targets, should member states not take appropriate action towards meeting renewable electricity targets in the next three to four years."

Rothe's concession on targets is one of nine compromise amendments to the council's common position that she put before the parliament's industry committee for approval prior to the directive proceeding to its second reading in parliament. She prepared the amendments after negotiation with the council which agreed to eight. It would not accept her demand that municipal waste should be removed from the directive. Instead, the council offered a compromise: waste can be excluded from any future harmonised support, but in the meantime it can be counted towards countries' targets and, if necessary, be included in their existing support systems until an internal renewables market is in place.

The big question is whether parliament will accept the compromise when it votes on July 4. Oliver Schafer from Rothe's office believes it will. "It sounds like a reasonble offer," he says. Personally I think it would be acceptable because they really want to aovid conciliation." This would thenleave only one final hurdle for the directive: a rubber stamping by the Council of Ministers, allowing the directive to be adopted before the summer break.

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