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18th Jan 2020

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EU wind policies: never enough of a good thing

  • Commission HQ in Brussels - campaigners want Brussels to put its money where its mouth is (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission is fond of saying how important wind is as a renewable energy source - but critics says its words are not matched by funding.

There are no EU targets for any specific renewable energy source. Instead, green goals agreed by member states suggest that by 2020, renewable energy sources should account for 20 percent of the bloc’s total energy demand.

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The target is part of the overarching Europe 2020 economic strategy for the coming decade and is laid out in a 2009 directive on renewable energy.

The directive commits member states to binding individual targets, taking into account their respective potential for generating renewable energy (some places are sunnier or windier than others), but leaves them free to choose a mix of renewable energy sources, with wind as only one of many alternatives.

"The commission is energy neutral," says Nicole Bockstaller, spokesperson for EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger. "We don't care how member states reach their target, as long as they do [it]."

Transposition of the directive into national law is proving difficult. It was due by early December 2010, but until now, not one member state has presented the commission with adequate national legislation.

Meanwhile, the EU is already looking further ahead.

"There should be an interesting discussion on binding targets for renewables by 2030," said Oettinger in December last year. "This should begin now and lead to a decision in two years' time."

Oettinger made the comment after the presentation of a commission road map outlining several scenarios that would cut carbon emissions by over 80 percent by the year 2050. "Irrespective of the particular energy mix chosen" - the document says - "important rising shares of renewables are necessary."

Energy neutral?

Funding, too, is supposed to be neutral. But big differences exist in the allocation of research and innovation funds among the different energy technologies.

The commission does not equally distribute the €3 billion reserved from 2007 to 2013 among the different non-nuclear, clean energy technologies, but rather grants funding on a project-by-project basis.

The share of the pie awarded to wind energy projects, so far, is six percent - not as little as hydro (0%) or geothermal (1%), but not nearly as much as solar (14%) or bio-fuels (14%).

Funding for research into nuclear energy amounts to over €2.7 billion for the same period.

"I don't understand it," says Vilma Radvilaite, budget analyst at the European Wind Energy Association, the Brussels-based lobby of the European wind industry. She says that there were more than enough project applications: "Never was there a shortage of project proposals."

The next funding period - from 2014 to 2020 - should provide some consolation, as the money going to non-nuclear, clean energy is to more than double uncder current plans. But despite this, the industry says it remains "severely underfunded" in light of the 2020 targets.

"The commission has missed an opportunity to make its R&D budget reflect new European priorities," said Radvilaite after the announcement of the new budget.

There are other sources of EU funding.

The commission's department for regional policy has reserved €780 million for wind energy projects from 2007 to 2013. In 2009, the energy department awarded €565 million to nine offshore wind energy projects - a one-time decision to help the economy to recover.

The commission favours generating wind energy offshore, as opposed to onshore. At sea, it argues, there is more wind, more space, and no neighbours to take offence at the often 100-plus-metre-high turbines.

Most of its funding goes to offshore projects and, even though the installation of turbines on sea, while growing fast, is only a fraction of that of onshore, the commission believes that by 2020 it will have increased 30- or even 40-fold.

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