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19th Jan 2019

EU to tackle 'energy poverty'

  • Electricity companies should not switch off electricity unannounced if consumers cannot pay the bill, the commissioner said (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission wants to help reduce energy poverty in Europe, but will not attempt to create a common definition of the concept.

The commission is proposing a bundle of legislation related to its Energy Union project on Wednesday (30 November), which has a “quite strong focus on vulnerable consumers and on energy poverty”, according to the responsible commissioner, Maros Sefcovic.

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He said the issue of energy poverty had been raised in every EU country he has visited in the last year.

He said that some 10 percent of Europeans are struggling to pay the bills that heat and cool their homes. He also noted that electricity supplies are being cut off too quickly.

“Today, without electricity, you cannot exist,” he told journalists on Tuesday during a briefing about Wednesday's package of measures.

“When we have seen the enormous high number of disconnections over the last years, even in very, very developed Western European countries, it is quite clear that before you are disconnected there should be certain procedures.”

“There should be some kind of plan how to help those people who are facing budgetary problems and not to proceed with automatic, unannounced switching off of the electricity supplies.”

He also said more EU money would be targeted towards projects that improve the energy efficiency of buildings, citing a renovation project in a social housing apartment bloc in Paris that received investment from the so-called Juncker fund, the commission's flagship economic tool.

“With that investment, each family, each household in that building was saving more than €1,000 per year,” Sefcovic said.

He pointed out that 75 percent of buildings in the EU were inefficient: “Very often, with a small investment, you can achieve quite significant energy savings.”

However, Sefcovic noted there was no “precise definition” for an "inefficient" building, making it difficult to quantify the success of the Energy Union project.

Specific situations

The same goes for the concept of energy poverty.

“The truth is that there is not a common definition of energy poverty. The situation is different from country to country,” said Sefcovic.

He said the commission would ask member states to “define the level of energy poverty for their specific situations”, and that it would set up an energy-poverty observatory.

But he signalled that a common definition was not the most important issue.

“What we, I think, will achieve through the focus on energy poverty is the fact that this would be acknowledged on the European level that we have a problem,” he said.

“That we have to monitor it, and that we have to work jointly how we are going to tackle it. That's something what was not so obvious just a year ago.”

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