European Commission (EC) officials have promised that from now on the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) will be involved in setting priorities for allocation of research funding under the European Union's Joule programme. The willingness of delegates on the Joule programme committee to go along with the EC's peremptory budget redistribution has been sharply criticised by, amongst others, the research ministry in Denmark. Two Danish delegates were reprimanded.

From now on the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) will be involved in setting priorities for allocation of research funding under the European Union's Joule programme. The promise was made to EWEA by European Commission (EC) officials at a meeting in Brussels in October.

EWEA requested the meeting after revelations that over ECU 14 million of Joule's renewable energy budget had been redistributed to fossil fuels and "rational use of energy." The redistribution resulted in renewables being allocated just 40% of the Joule budget -- even though the European Parliament and Council of Ministers had agreed that under the Fourth Framework Programme renewables were to get 60% (Windpower Monthly, October & November 1995).

"I am quite pleased with the outcome of our meeting," says EWEA chairman Ian Mays. "We are to be involved in setting priorities in the programme. We have agreed to meet at least twice a year to sit down and look at what we need." He and EWEA's Jos Beurskens met with Ezio Andreta, Director of Energy at the EC's research directorate, DG XII, and his assistant, Giancarlo Caratti, who has been involved in DG XII's wind section for a number of years.

"Dr Andreta is very keen to ensure that the next round is properly focused and this is very laudable," continues Mays. Both parties agreed to work together to ensure the programme had a clear industrial focus with well targeted proposals, appropriately formulated and assessed. "We were also invited to take part in formulating the programme under the Fifth Framework programme," adds Mays.

The redistribution of the Joule budget came about after officials changed their project selection procedure for the 1995 round of subsidies at the last moment. This resulted in a large number of renewables projects being suddenly discarded. Though not as badly affected as some technologies, wind energy lost some 25 projects to "rating harmonisation." In conducting this procedure EC officials have been accused of not only ignoring the recommendations of industry experts called in to assist with project selections, but also of tampering with the experts' evaluations.

The Commission has defended its selection procedure, saying that renewables projects were of too poor a quality to justify allocating the full amount of money agreed in the guideline budget -- though this statement has since been modified in relation to wind. Officials have also justified their actions by pointing out that the selection was approved by the Joule programme committee, made up of delegates from the EU's member countries.

Minister keeping watch

The willingness of delegates to go along with the EC's peremptory redistribution of the budget, however, has been sharply criticised in some quarters. In Denmark, research minister, Frank Jensen, has personally issued a sharp public reprimand to his two delegates, Flemming Øster from national laboratory Risø and Klaus Mandrup from the energy agency.

"The research ministry has pointed out to the two delegates that the funds earmarked for renewables but not used should have been reserved for use in the next round of support, otherwise there is a risk that funds will run out before the end of the programme. It is unfortunate that this point has apparently not been clear to the programme committee delegates who have accepted the Commission's procedure," he states.

Jensen's head of department, Knud Larsen, is even more outspoken in his condemnation. By their acceptance the delegates have "not followed a policy which has high priority in Denmark. It is also regrettable that our knowledge of these events has come from the press and not via direct information from the delegates," he told Danish national newspaper, Information.

Mandrup and Øster, in a written report demanded of them by the minister, justified their passivity by explaining that Danish projects had not been affected by the revised selection procedure. They further argued there was still time to correct the budget imbalance before the end of the Fourth Framework Programme which runs from 1994-1998.

Jensen's involvement was prompted not only by press reports, but also by a group from the Danish parliament's select committee on research, headed by Anni Svanholt from the Socialist People's Party. Following a meeting between the group and Jensen on November 15, she reports that Jensen feels unable to take the matter up with the EC because his delegates have already given their agreement to the ongoing distribution of Joule funds. Jensen says the EC has admitted a "procedural error" and he will be closely watching the next distribution of funds.

This, reports Jensen, will begin in January with the allocation of an extra ECU 25-30 million to renewable energy. The Joule programme committee is due to meet on December 5 to approve allocation of funds to a reserve list of projects and learn of the progress of an additional call for proposals referred to by Research Commissioner, Edith Cresson.

Svanholt is disappointed that Jensen declines to take the matter further. "It is clear from what he says that something is terribly wrong. In my opinion it would have been more reasonable if the minister had demanded that the whole Joule procedure should be started again. Reducing the priority given to support of renewables is a scandal," she says.

Meantime, Wolfgang Palz, previously head of the research directorate's renewables division, has taken up a new post as assistant to DG XII director, Henrik Tent. Palz has been named by his superiors as a central figure in the Joule funding controversy. They have suggested that he interfered in the evaluations of projects by outside experts with the result that projects were given higher grades than intended by the experts. The Commission's official explanation for introducing its "rating harmonisation" procedure was to correct errors in the grading. The involved experts, both on the technical and strategic panels, strongly deny they were influenced by Palz. They have also said the selections resulting from "rating harmonisation" do not reflect their original choices.