27th Oct 2016

EU member states slow to commit to green energy targets

  • Green energy currently accounts for 6% of the EU's overall energy consumption (Photo: European Community, 2006)

New EU legislation aimed at having green energy account for 20 percent of the Union's overall energy consumption by 2020 is facing a delay, with EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs admitting that member states are eing "cautious" in contributing too much to the target.

It is "a real task" to distribute a 20 percent target among 27 countries, Mr Piebalgs told EUobserver, adding that the methodology to be applied is proving "quite a politically sensitive issue".

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A legislative proposal on the use of renewable energy was supposed to be tabled in the third quarter of this year, but will not be ready before December.

Commissioner Piebalgs referred to the over two-month time-slip as "normal working process". But he also cited several stumbling blocks on the path to the legislative piece being finalized.

"All [EU states] are cautious to announce their potential", Mr Piebalgs said, referring to EU governments' circumspect answers to his recent letter on the issue.

The directive – containing three chapters: on biofuels, on heating and cooling and on renewable electricity – should lay out in detail how exactly to get from the current six percent to a 20 percent share of green energy in EU energy consumption by 2020.

Member states are not to be given any medium-term target, but only the main one to be fulfilled by the end of next decade.

If they miss the target, the commission has indicated it will start regular infringement procedures.

More stumbling blocks

Apart from the burden-sharing issue, Brussels is also struggling to sort out how to trade renewable energy within the bloc's internal market, especially when taking into account support schemes in some individual EU states.

"We have to find a balanced answer which would promote trading and cross-border investments and at the same time would not jeopardize the fact that some countries are more generous to the renewables [sector]", Mr Piebalgs said.

The last area where the EU is currently mired in technical and political detail is related to the Union's agreed commitment to secure that biofuels constitute at least 10 percent of fuels used in new vehicles by 2020 – something supposed to contribute to the fight against climate change as well as to reduce Europe's dependency on oil.

Currently, biofuels represent only one to two percent of overall EU transport consumption.

Meanwhile, the rising trend towards using biofuels has come under increased criticism for driving up food prices as well as damaging the world's limited farmland.

However, commissioner Piebalgs argues that Brussels' calculations of the 10 percent binding target are well-based and not dangerous to fulfil. Instead, he believes the EU should speed up its research into the area of second-generation biofuels.

"We need to accelerate and cannot be slow", Mr Piebalgs said.

While first-generation biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol, currently available, are made from agricultural crops, second-generation fuels are made from woody, carbonous materials which do not conflict with food production.

The directive on the use of renewable energy is now expected to be presented in December as part of an overall energy-climate change package.

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