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Ministers fail to adopt target for renewables

Europe's energy ministers failed to give their wholehearted support to the Commission's White Paper for a Community Strategy and Action Plan on renewables when they met last month. The plan proposes doubling the use of renewable energy in Europe from today's 6% of energy consumption to 12% by 2010. But the resolution agreed on by ministers at their quarterly meeting in Brussels on May 11 falls far short of an outright endorsement of the target -- and has been watered down from a previous draft.

The White Paper's target for wind power is 40,000 MW by 2010. The European Commission (EC) proposes that 10,000 MW of this should be developed with government support in a "campaign for take-off." Until last month, Europe's energy ministers had given the impression they would adopt the White Paper's targets, including that for wind.

An earlier draft of the official response of member states to the EC's White Paper had been leaked to Greenpeace. It reveals that in March the energy council was divided over the issue. Spain, backed by Denmark, Greece and Portugal, was arguing for a stronger statement of support for the 12% target than that proposed while Germany, the UK, France and the Netherlands opposed Spain's proposal.

The response eventually agreed upon last month is decidedly lukewarm: instead of fully adopting the target it states merely that it "provides useful guidance for increased efforts at Community level as well as in member states."

Greenpeace accuses the UK's John Battle, who chaired the May meeting, of secretly opposing the 12% target. "The UK's opposition is clearly contrary to political will and is threatening the opportunity to create up to 900,000 new jobs and prevent the emission of some 400 million tonnes a year of carbon dioxide," says Greenpeace's Marcus Rand, quoting some of the figures from the White Paper.

Germany in disgrace

Despite Greenpeace's singling out of the UK for criticism, Germany appears to have been the White Paper's most consistent attacker. With France and Austria, it wanted a paragraph welcoming the White Paper as a basis for action deleted altogether. In the final response, the paragraph at issue remained, but was severely weakened. It now merely welcomes the "general thrust" of the White Paper as a "basis for the development of actions." Germany also objected to the word "welcome" in another paragraph, this time in the context of the "campaign for take-off," and proposed "takes note of" instead.

Germany's efforts to de-rail the White Paper have been criticised by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Hiltrud Breyer, MEP for the German Green party, blames her government for weakening the main target. "Pressure from the German government led to the concrete target of 12% for renewable energies' contribution to Europe's energy sources being altered to a mere figure for orientation," she says. "It is disgraceful that in the European Union the German government is acting as a brake to block the breakthrough of renewable energies." She charges the economy minister, Günter Rexrodt, with acting "as beadle for the large electricity monopolists." Rexrodt is responsible for energy as well as economic policy.

But realistic

A source from the presidency team maintains, however, that ministers' cautious reaction to the Commission's proposed target is based on realism. He complains that the White Paper is not clear on how it can achieve its key aims. "It is high on ambition and rhetoric but a bit short on how we go about doing these things." He points out that in any case the resolution urges a substantial increase in renewables throughout the EU. "If there is any reticence on the UK's part, it is on the procedural side rather than the direction we are going in."

Indeed, some paragraphs in the ministers' final resolution are positive in tone, albeit longer on good intentions than on specifics. In others, it asks the Commission for more detail to back its proposals. On the campaign for take-off to promote large scale renewable energy projects -- including the 10,000 MW of wind farms and 1,000,000 PV systems -- ministers ask the Commission to specify how it is going to mobilise the necessary private and public sector financing. They also suggest the Commission draws up plans to remove obstacles to the use of renewable energy and the trade in electricity from renewables.

Ministers agree that the costs of renewables must be reduced so that they can compete with other energy sources. This is best done through market based mechanisms, it says. It recognises that the range of renewables support measures adopted in different countries could affect the development of a single electricity market, but merely "takes note with interest" the Commission's first report on harmonisation requirements.

clean power focus

An open debate on energy and the environment at the meeting came as a departure from the usual agenda. John Battle claimed it was the first time an energy council had concentrated on environmental issues. He had invited UK environment minister, Michael Meacher -- such cross-departmental initiatives and "joined-up thinking" are dear to the heart of the current UK presidency of the EU. Renewable energy figured prominently. Summing up, Battle said there was a consensus that environment policy and energy policy are inextricably linked, and renewables have an increasing role to play in the Community's energy supply.

Agreement eluded ministers at the meeting, however, resulting in a delay to plans for an energy framework program to bring together different strands of community policy. During its six month stint, the UK presidency had hoped that proposals for a five year program of actions, policies and support measures would have progressed much further. But some member states are resisting the budget figure currently on the table of ECU 180 million, proposed by the presidency. This is lower than the Commission's proposal of ECU 213 million, but would still give a more generous allocation to the Altener renewables support program. Meantime a budget of just ECU 22 million over two years was agreed at the meeting, well down on the Commission's ECU 30 million proposal

Kyoto in check

Also on the agenda was the energy ministers' response to Europe's Kyoto commitments. Not much can be achieved until individual country targets under the overall European commitment of an 8% reduction in greenhouse gases are agreed by the environment council.

Meanwhile, the Energy Council's initial response stresses that the approach to emissions reductions needs to be shared with transport, agriculture and industry. Energy's contribution to Kyoto commitments will be in the areas of energy efficiency, renewables and combined heat and power (CHP). Any new action needs to build on national programs and R&D measures already in place. In addition, the community will set up a raft of policies and measures common to or co-ordinated between member states. These will be developed at future Energy Councils.

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