In the coming days and weeks, European governments and Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will have a crucial say on the direction and pace of the European Union’s renewable energy transition.
Two of the draft laws under discussion – on the development of renewable energy and the redesign of the European electricity market – could prove instrumental in boosting Europe’s role in the global fight against climate change and in ensuring the EU meets its commitment to help limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C. The new rules would apply between 2021 and 2030.
The choice that MEPs and governments face is between an outdated energy model that relies heavily on centralised electricity production from coal, gas and nuclear energy, and a cutting-edge distributed system which would allow millions of individuals and local communities to produce, use and sell renewable electricity. The current system is controlled by a handful of heavily subsidised companies, but the transformation of Europe’s energy model would trigger a democratic breakthrough, with citizens across Europe producing their own affordable renewable energy.
|Greenpeace EU energy policy adviser Tara Connolly said: “It’s time for European governments to embrace the 21st century’s technical revolution in favour of a renewable-powered future for everyone. Clinging to the past would be a triple blow: denying citizens access to cheap, renewable energy, while using their taxes to subsidise power companies and pick up the tab for the health and climate impacts of fossil fuels.”|
Some measures being considered would enable Europeans to take a more active role in the energy transition by, for example, installing smart meters or investing in solar panels. For the first time, the EU would recognise a universal right for citizens to produce, store and sell renewable electricity, free from punitive charges, including tariffs for access to the grid.
Greenpeace is campaigning for households to be entitled to a fair payment for the electricity they feed into the grid, and for renewable energy community projects to have equal access to project tenders and financing.
Community or citizen energy has an enormous and largely untapped potential. A report by CE Delft, commissioned by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, REScoop.eu and EREF in 2016, showed that over 112 million energy citizens could meet 19 per cent of Europe’s electricity demand by 2030. By 2050, over 264 million Europeans – half of all EU citizens – could produce as much as 45 per cent of Europe’s electricity demand.
By making the right choices today, the next decade could see households, local cooperatives, cities and small businesses massively investing in renewables to power everything from schools to businesses. Citizen energy can also help tackle energy poverty through so-called ‘social solar’ public projects that provide low-income households with access to cheap, affordable renewable energy, instead of giving them money to heat their homes with fossil fuels.
Fossil fuel subsidies
European policymakers are also considering so-called capacity mechanisms, which would funnel taxpayers’ money to power companies just to keep uneconomic power plants on standby as backup for potential power shortages. However, Europe has more power plants than are necessary to meet its energy needs. This means subsidies are rarely justified and merely delay the inevitable shutdown of some of the most polluting and unsafe coal, nuclear and gas plants in Europe.
Capacity mechanisms are costly. For instance, the UK has awarded capacity payments worth £4.8 billion (€5.4 billion) over a period of just three years. Poland’s planned capacity market is expected to cost as much as zł90 billion (€21.4 billion). This money could instead be used to accelerate the transition to renewable energy.
The Commission has proposed important but insufficient conditions on capacity mechanisms. These include regular mandatory European mapping of available energy resources to be carried out by European grid operators in order to identify legitimate needs. The Commission also proposes to include all technologies in capacity mechanisms (including renewables and batteries for energy storage) and to exclude new coal plants from 2020 but existing coal plants only after 2025.
Where does the European Parliament stand?
The EU’s 2030 climate and energy targets are far from adequate and incompatible with the objectives of the Paris climate agreement. Greenpeace supports a 2030 renewable energy target of at least 45 per cent, as a step towards an electricity system entirely powered by renewables by 2050. In addition, the EU should continue to set binding national renewables targets for the period after 2020, ensuring governments are accountable for their contributions to the overall EU target.
On 28 November 2017, the European Parliament’s energy committee supported an increase of the renewables target from 27 to 35 per cent. However, it also recommended a 10 per cent leeway that would effectively reduce this target to 31.5 per cent. It did not back national renewable targets.
On the other hand, the committee recognised the right of Europeans to produce and sell their own renewable electricity, free from punitive charges, levies and taxes. It also recommended restrictions on access to capacity mechanisms to guard against market distortions. These restrictions include having to prove that there is a real risk of power cuts in the absence of payments.
What are governments saying?
Council negotiations are ongoing. Greece, Belgium and Hungary have expressed support for citizen energy. Spain and Germany, supported by France and the UK, have sided with power companies and are working against greater energy democracy.
Many governments, including the Netherlands and Denmark are opposed to capacity mechanisms and want robust energy mapping. The UK, France, Italy and Ireland on the other hand want to set up long-term capacity schemes without robust mapping. The Netherlands is siding with Denmark, Sweden and Finland in wanting to exclude new coal plants from capacity mechanisms, while Spain, Poland and Greece are strongly opposed to such restrictions. Germany has stopped short of fully excluding coal from mechanisms as they want them to be eligible for certain types of schemes.
November 2016: Commission releases package of policy proposals, dubbed the clean energy for all Europeans package, to achieve the 2030 targets.
28 November 2017: European Parliament energy committee votes on renewable energy proposals.
18 December 2017: European energy ministers meeting in Brussels expected to come to a preliminary agreement on renewable energy and power market reform proposals.
January 2018: Parliament plenary votes on renewable energy proposals.
February 2018: European Parliament energy committee votes on electricity market reform.
26 February 2018: Energy Council expected to adopt formal position on renewable energy and electricity market proposals.
March 2018: expected start of trialogue negotiations between the Parliament and Council on both files.
Sebastian Mang – Greenpeace EU energy policy adviser: +32 (0)479 601289, [email protected]
Greenpeace EU press desk: +32 (0)2 274 1911 [email protected]
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