Focus on the climate and supply security

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As the electricity networks of Europe become ever more interlinked, consideration is being given to bringing energy policy under EU competency so that national interests no longer preside over the common good. Wind energy stands to benefit

As Austria assumes the presidency of the EU, climate change and security of energy supply are two priorities facing Europe's political leaders in 2006. The work program for the year includes a raft of actions that are likely to impact renewable energy. Perhaps most eagerly awaited by the renewables community will be conclusions on the progress by member states towards meeting their voluntary targets for renewables' share of electricity consumption, a document to be issued by the European Commission, the EU's executive body. The EU aim is for renewables to supply 22.1% of Europe's electricity by 2010; this forms part of the overall European target of 12% of total energy from renewables by 2010. Each country was due to have reported on its progress towards its national renewable electricity goals by October 27, 2005, but by mid-January only a handful had submitted reports.

If, as seems likely, the Commission concludes that the EU is not on track to meet its aim, it could propose mandatory national targets. The Commission's report is due by October at the latest. Industry observers believe it will inevitably include discussion of goals for 2020. Last year, the European parliament called for a binding 20% target for renewable energy by 2020. The Commission has indicated that it will consider the issue in 2007, and is likely to open dialogue before then.

Meantime, the hot topic on the agenda is security of energy supply. The European Council of Ministers has asked the Commission to produce a green paper for discussion at the March Spring Council meeting of the heads of government of all 25 member states of the EU. Driving concern are high oil and gas prices and recent tensions between Russia and Ukraine over the supply of gas.

Among the issues up for debate is the question of whether energy policy should come under EU competency, enabling decisions to be taken by a qualified majority in parliament, rather than with the current need for unanimous agreement by countries. Such a move has historically been blocked -- in particular by the UK. But under its recent presidency, Britain performed an about turn, now favouring a common energy policy, particularly covering grids and pipelines. French President Jacques Chirac, meantime, is pressing for nuclear to be included, a move that would be unpopular with a number of countries that have rejected nuclear or are winding down their nuclear programs.

From the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) Christian Kjaer agrees that a European energy policy is needed, but an attempt to include nuclear should not be tried. "The policy should be confined to areas where there is a clear consensus among member states," he explains. There is policy consensus, says Kjaer, on energy efficiency, renewable energy, distributed generation, energy infrastructure, electricity liberalisation and energy diplomacy.

Negotiations will continue this year on the seventh research and development framework program (FP7). This will run from 2007 to 2013, following on from the sixth program which ends this year. Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs is pushing for more research funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy, including wind, to reduce the EU's demand for oil. The Commission proposed a much increased budget for FP7 of EUR 73 billion, but the eventual size of European research funding will depend on the outcome of the ongoing contentious EU budget negotiations for 2007-2013.

By the end of 2006, an ad hoc group set up by the Commission is to publish guidelines to advise member states on applying EU directives on biodiversity, birds and habitats. The growing number of areas covered by Natura 2000, the network of protected nature sites which includes marine as well as onshore sites, is an issue of increasing relevance to wind energy developers.

Grids will also come under the spotlight as the Commission drives forward its proposals for trans-European networks. These include increased electricity interconnection to open up markets to competition as well as enabling cross border flows of power from renewables.

Other actions by the Commission this year that could influence the wind market are a review of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, revised state aid guidelines for renewable energy support mechanisms and the fifth Benchmarking Report on the Internal Energy Market.

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