Binding targets a sticking point -- European parliament calls for amendments to draft directive

Any possibility of a common position being reached on the draft renewables directive at this month's meeting of European energy ministers appears increasingly remote. The European parliament is demanding mandatory national targets for renewable electricity, a requirement that in all probability will require a drawn out process of conciliation.

The European parliament's amendments to the draft renewables directive make any possibility of a common position being reached at the December meeting of countries' energy ministers appear increasingly remote. The amendments were voted through on November 16 at the parliament's first reading of the directive on electricity from renewable sources. But even if they were adopted by the Commission and Council, they would delay the introduction of harmonised European support for renewables.

Top of the list of demands by members of the European parliament (MEPs) are mandatory national targets for renewable electricity rather than the Commission's proposed compromise of indicative targets. Moreover, the MEPs want targets for generation as well as consumption of renewables. And renewable electricity traded across borders should only count towards the targets of the country where it is consumed.

On the thorny issue of progress towards harmonisation, the parliament calls for countries to be able to retain their existing support mechanisms for at least ten years instead of five, and until subsidies to fossil fuels are ended and their external costs internalised. The MEPs also believe that 23.5% of Europe's electricity -- instead of the 22.1% in the draft directive -- will have to come from renewables if it is to meet its overall target of 12% of renewable energy by 2010. "Certificates of origin" should be required for all forms of energy -- not just renewables; and the costs of reinforcing the grid in order to connect new plant must be borne by the grid operator.

National handprints

The handprint of specific member states is apparent in many of the different amendments. While countries who are gearing themselves up to domestic green certificate trading -- such as Denmark, Netherlands and the UK -- call on the Commission to promote a market for trading certified renewable electricity, others, particularly Germany, who realise that harmonisation of support is incompatible with their existing market mechanisms, demand a derogation for renewable energy from the internal energy market treaty so that their support schemes will not have to be opened up to all renewables producers in the EU until at least 2010.

Reporting on the progress of the directive at a debate in Brussels organised by the European Wind Energy Association in early November before the MEPs' vote, Luc Werring, head of renewables at the Commission, had been optimistic that all parties were approaching a compromise. But some issues still needed to be resolved, he said. A major obstacle was binding targets. But while a large number of states are calling for them, others find even indicative targets difficult to digest, he said.

Conciliation process

With European ministers and the European parliament thus still at odds, the Commission sees binding targets as the central issue and believes that a process of conciliation will be unavoidable before the directive can proceed. It still expects the council of ministers, at its regular meeting on December 5, to confirm indicative targets, although Germany altered the stakes slightly by indicating in late November that it is prepared to accept binding targets for the contribution of renewables.

Member states' permanent representatives were to thrash out these matters at their meeting on November 29 where they hoped to agree a common position to be presented to the Energy Council.

The directive will be a high priority for the incoming Swedish presidency, said Charlotte Zackari from the Swedish permanent representation at the breakfast. The renewables dossier was very much in line with Swedish objectives. She stressed that competitiveness was important to make renewables cost effective, although a critical mass would be needed. She thought that governments were more likely to reach common position during 2001 than when energy ministers gather in the first week of December for their six monthly meeting.

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