EC shifts from binding RE goal

European commissioners have moved towards rejecting calls for a new legally-binding 2030 renewables target, as a deepening rift emerges across Europe between EU governments, industry and green groups over setting new goals.

One Brussels source tells Recharge that a majority of commissioners has now accepted the UK’s argument, supported by EC president Jose Manuel Barroso, that member states should adopt a single greenhouse gas (GHG) target, but scrap the idea of binding targets for renewables and energy efficiency.

The Commission is facing intense lobbying ahead of a White Paper on the issue — which will also cover the future structure of the emissions trading scheme (ETS) and renewables subsidies — to be released on 22 January.

Commissioners have agreed that the White Paper will only recommend a single EU GHG target focusing on cutting overall emissions, leaving member states to choose the means of achieving their share of the reduction.

The White Paper document is due to be discussed, and potentially approved, by EU heads of state in March.

The source said 2030 carbon-cutting targets of 35% and 40% were under debate, benchmarked against 1990 levels, together with a renewables goal of between 24% and 27%.

The commissioners’ recent breakfast meeting was inconclusive as to the final figures, the source added. “The fight will be to get the 40%.”

“Depending on the decision on the greenhouse gas figure, the proposal for only an indicative target on renewables will be set at either 24% or 27%,” another source says.

The Commission's move represents a big setback for the European wind industry, which has been intensively lobbying for all EU member states to be required to set renewable energy targets.

Ministers from eight European Union states,  including Germany and France,  have made a strong call on the European Commission to set a renewables target for 2030,  in opposition to the stance taken by the UK and others which advocates a sole greenhouse gas emissions target.

However, climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard, who had previously been backing a renewable energy target,  did not mention the issue at all in a comment piece published on 6 January calling for “bold climate action”.

There are strong indications that the Commission has accepted the UK’s arguments that EU member states should be left free to decide how to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent letter from UK Prime Minister David Cameron to Barroso, seen by Recharge, says that “the 2030 climate and energy package provides an opportunity to simplify the existing targets regime from three to one.

“This will reduce unnecessary costs that our embattled energy sector is currently bearing, lowering energy prices across Europe, with consequential benefits to the EU’s growth and competitiveness”.

Cameron says the UK agrees that the EU should take on its fair share of the emissions reduction in order to keep the average global temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade.

“This is why we are calling for a domestic EU greenhouse gas target of 40%, rising to 50% in the event of an ambitious global climate change deal, underpinned by a strong reformed EU emission trading system,” he writes.

The UK prime minister says “it is essential that we avoid regulation or targets that will force member states away from their least cost decarbonisation pathway, or undermines a level technology playing field”.

Cameron argues that the voters in many member states will become increasingly resistant to climate targets where they are deemed to be expensive, inflexible and insensitive to national or regional needs.

“Our analysis in the UK indicates that a renewables target would add up to an additional £9bn per year to UK energy bills in 2030, compared to having a greenhouse gas target alone, undermining our economic and climate change goals,” he writes.

Poland is another obstacle to an agreement by heads of state in March. The country, which depends upon coal for 90% of its energy, has called for the 2030 targets not to be finalised until 2015.