Controversy over new road map -- Major EU policy debate

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Europe's renewable energy road map, due out this month as part of a wide ranging EU energy review is shaping up to be a bitter disappointment to green energy lobby groups. It will "destroy existing renewable energy legislation," says Oliver Schäfer of the European Renewable Energy Council, while offering nothing more than "nice words."

Existing European renewables policy is based on a target of 12% of energy from renewables by 2010 with legislation covering three distinct sectors: a 2001 directive covering electricity from renewables, a 2003 biofuels directive for transport, and proposed legislation for heating. At present there are Europe-wide targets for electricity (21%) and transport (5.75%). The draft roadmap favours doing away with this command-and-control approach and replacing it with an overall Europe-wide renewables target just for energy, while leaving national binding targets to individual governments. Current national targets are merely indicative.

Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs states publicly that he favours binding targets for each energy sector. But there is opposition from fellow Commissioners, in particular Enterprise Commissioner Günter Verheugen. He is urging Commission President José Manuel Barroso to "create a truly internal market for renewables," arguing that the current approach has served a very useful purpose in kick-starting renewable technologies from a very low base, but it is time to move on.

Picking winners trap

Verheugen warns against falling into the trap of picking winners. "We should, therefore, provide incentives in a technology neutral fashion," he says. "A promising approach would be to set a binding European target for all renewables, with a sharing out amongst all member states within the context of a strong European framework." He advocates linking green certificate trade with the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme "to ensure coherence."

Verheugen's comments form part of a ten point plan of action for tackling climate change that does not damage Europe's competitiveness. It includes a "realistic and ambitious" twin-track approach to CO2 reductions. This would be based on unilateral targets that could be achieved without too much effort, but at the same time the EU would be willing to take on a more ambitious set of goals through international agreements, provided other major global emitters are prepared to follow suit. "We need to demonstrate environmental leadership, but there is no point in doing so if we have no followers -- especially if this comes at significant cost to the EU economy," he says.

Cynical window dressing

The renewables industry is alarmed by the draft roadmap's proposal to do away with sector targets, which are seen to be working. "It is undermining the existing Directive and putting in its place something vague and blurry," says Schäfer. The industry's view is shared by the European Parliament, which on December 14 voted in favour of binding targets for the three energy sectors to achieve an ambitious 25% share for renewables of primary energy by 2020.

According to Schäfer, the inclusion of binding national targets for renewable energy in the road map is cynical window dressing by the Commission. It knows these will never be passed by the European Council of Ministers, the representative body of EU governments, which has always resisted binding targets. "The first thing that will fall down in the Council is the proposal for mandatory targets. This is why it is pure rhetoric," he says. "What the Commission is doing right now is a disaster for existing and effective EU renewable energy legislation."

True to form, at the November Energy Council meeting, ministers failed to agree on any concrete measures to boost renewables. Many were concerned about the current emphasis on renewables targets for each energy sector. Only two out of the 25 EU member states -- Denmark and Germany -- are in favour of mandatory targets.

The parliamentary Green party is supporting the renewables lobby. It slammed Verheugen's proposal, accusing him of being out of touch. Even many business leaders accept that the debate has moved on, says the Greens' Danny Cohn-Bendit. "But Commissioner Verheugen appears to have been left behind to trundle out the same old arguments that protecting the environment should come second place to defending some outdated concept of competitiveness."

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