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Spring Summit Conclusions : EU leaders put 2015 target for renewables on the table

31.01.2007

On March 24th, EU leaders met in Brussels to discuss the lessons learned six years on from the agreement of the Lisbon Strategy. Following the publication of the Green Paper entitled “A European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy” that the European Commission issued on 8th March, energy was the main focus of European debates. The Austrian Presidency devoted the second part of its final conclusions to a new strategic document: “Energy Policy for Europe” (EPE). The text provides, among other things, an “Indicative List of Actions” in the energy field.

Currently energy is not part of Community competence and, despite the rhetoric and all the recent speeches, it is still unclear whether we are a step closer to a real European energy policy.

“I think one day when we write the history of Europe, we will say the energy policy for Europe was born on the 23rd and 24th of March under the Austrian presidency,” said José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission

Göran Persson, Swedish Prime Minister, probably gave the best characterisation of the agreements on energy:

“Something new has been established in Europe, do not ask me exactly what,” he said right after the summit while mentioning climate change, security of supply and the European energy industry as the main elements of the agreement.

A “Foreign Energy Policy” or an “Energy Policy for Europe”?

In a press release on the final day of the summit, EWEA called for a common energy policy for Europe: “A common approach is needed if we are to turn the energy and climate burden into a growth and job opportunity for European companies and citizens,” said EWEA CEO Christian Kjaer.

The Conclusion’s most notable step towards greater cooperation lies in the development of a common external energy policy. This would permit the EU to engage itself in energy diplomacy on behalf of its Member States and allow Europe to speak with one voice in negotiations.

While the EU seems to move forward in terms of coordinated energy, Member States continue to close their eyes to the structural problem of Europe’s energy supply. The issue of greater energy independence is hardly addressed in the Presidency’s Conclusions and is hidden away at the end of a sentence in the “Indicative List of Actions” in Annex III of the Conclusions. Under the heading “Intensified Diversification”, the EU leaders state:

“Member States should intensify their diversification strategies while considering the development of a common approach, be it in terms of the supplier countries or the transport routes. New gas supply routes should be opened in particular from the Caspian region and North Africa. This diversification should not be limited to external sources but include the development and exploitation of indigenous energy potential and energy efficiency.”

Needless to say, energy diplomacy is important, but it does not cut to the root of the problems, EWEA believes.

The scope for diversifying transport routes and supplier countries is limited by the geographical availability of fossil fuels and uranium. No amount of diplomacy can negotiate the EU out of that structural problem. Increased dependence on a handful of countries leaves the EU’s energy supply, economic development, the future welfare of its citizens, and the environment beyond the control of the 25 Member States. Energy diplomacy can mitigate energy procurement worries today but it will not address the main structural problems: we are going to import an ever growing share of our energy at unpredictable (but most likely higher) prices, in competition with the rest of the world, and at astronomical environmental cost.

EWEA believes that regardless of whether we are successful in energy diplomacy or not, we have no idea about the future price of energy we will be paying to maintain current supply. If we want to be in control of our own energy future, Europe needs to shift direction and start developing, on a large scale, the indigenous, clean renewable energy resources that are available at our doorstep. We are a step closer to a “Foreign Energy Policy” but much still needs to be done if we are to develop a coherent “Energy Policy for Europe” that addresses all three elements of energy security: Supply security, affordability and protection of the environment.

15% Renewables by 2015

The EU leaders understand the challenges facing Europe. The second part of the conclusions starts by saying:

“The European Council notes that Europe is facing a number of challenges in the energy field: the ongoing difficult situation on the oil and gas markets, the increasing import dependency and limited diversification achieved so far, high and volatile energy prices, growing global energy demand, security risks affecting producing and transit countries as well as transport routes, the growing threats of climate change, slow progress in energy efficiency and the use of renewables, the need for increased transparency on energy markets and further integration and interconnection of national energy markets with the energy market liberalisation nearing completion (July 2007), the limited coordination between energy players while large investments are required in energy infrastructure. Leaving these challenges unaddressed has a direct impact on the EU environment, and jobs and growth potential.”

The European Council clearly understands the challenges, as documented above, but energy policy action in Europe continues to move at the pace of glaciers. So does long-term commitment to renewables at EU level. On the crucial issue of renewable energy targets beyond 2010, the Council Conclusions stated:

“Strengthening the EU leadership by continuing the EU-wide development of renewable energies (road map) on the basis of an analysis by the Commission of how to achieve the existing targets (2010) and how to sustain in a cost-efficient manner the current efforts over the long-term e.g. considering to raise, by 2015, the share of renewable energies, considering a target of 15%, and the proportion of biofuels, considering a target of 8%, and developing a medium and long-term strategy to reduce the EU's dependency on energy imports in a manner that meets the objectives of the strategy for growth and jobs, taking into account the problems of islands or regions largely isolated from the EU energy market.”

While EWEA welcomes the reference to the 2015 target as a step in the right direction, it does not provide long-term investor security and commitment.

Long-term mandatory targets, at least until 2020, are important for the European wind energy sector because they would provide a strong signal of commitment to investors and encourage them to commit risk capital while enabling a stable technology development and cost reductions.

“The leaders of Europe are whispering a medium-term commitment to renewables by agreeing on a reference to a 2015 target for renewables. It is a very cautious step in the right direction, but still far from the ambition level of the European Parliament,” said EWEA in a press release.

In a resolution from 2005 the European parliament reiterated its position on renewable energy targets for Europe, stressing the importance of setting mandatory targets for 2020.

The European Council refers to the 15% renewables target by 2015 as part of the Road Map for renewables. That goes beyond the ambition level of the European Commission’s Green Paper which did not refer to specific targets beyond 2010. EWEA supports the Road Map in principle, but final judgment will be based on the actual content of it. A minimum requirement must be mandatory long-term targets, at least for 2020 as proposed by the European Parliament.

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