EU ‘binding’ renewables target spared the axe

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The possibility of a binding renewable energy target for the EU is back on the table at negotiations in Brussels.

PV Tech understands that the current draft of the new 2030 centre piece of the bloc’s climate and energy policy calls for a target of either 27% or 30%. A 24% target, that would represent business as usual, has been ruled out.

While the current wording includes the word “binding”, it is unclear whether this obligation would fall on national governments, creating a powerful incentive for action, or a softer binding goal for the EU as a whole. 

As one policy expert familiar with the matter pointed out, “the EU is not about to take itself to court if it missed a target”, making nationally binding targets a more potent incentive.

The draft was being discussed by the EU's heads of cabinet at the time of writing. It had previously been reported that EU commission president José Manuel Barroso was keen to remove a renewable energy target but the policy appears to have survived so far.

On Wednesday, a raft of new proposals will be announced including the 2030 climate and energy package. The plan still has to be written up as formal legislation and approved by member state governments.

Its predecessor, the 20:20:20 plan, set 20% targets on greenhouse gas reductions, renewable energy generation and energy efficiency improvement by 2020. 

Media speculation that the GHG target will be 40% rather than 35% has gathered steam during the weekend. A 40% target alone is estimated to spur an EU-wide renewables take up of 27%. This means if a 40% GHG target were proposed, a 27% renewables target would be almost redundant.

Responding to the news, Greenpeace energy policy expert Tara Connolly said:

“A 27% renewables target is little more than business-as-usual. It would have an impact on renewables investment not just after 2020 but before. What are member states and investors going to do if they know they don’t have to develop renewables after 2020?”

“The renewables target is where the real battle is, and that fight will continue onto the Council,” she said.

Barroso has taken a personal interest in the policy and it is though that outgoing commissioners, due to be replaced this year, are keen to have an outline of the 2030 framework in place before they go.

“There are people in the commission who want to leave a legacy on climate and energy policies but there will be serious questions about the quality of that legacy and how useful it is,” said Connolly.

The UK and Poland have led calls for the 2030 version to only set a GHG target and to let countries decide how they do that. This would open the door for countries choosing to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nuclear power in a greater quantity.

Germany, France, Italy and Spain have been vociferously backing a new binding renewable energy target for 2030.

Niklas Höhne, director of climate and energy policy at the consultancy Ecofys, told PV Tech a different approach to target setting could be beneficial.

“I think what we are currently doing is back to front,” he said. “The closer the targets are to real action the more concrete and ambitious they will also be. The discussion on the GHG reduction target is far away from action, we don’t know what 35, 40 or 45% means. It’s a very abstract discussion.

“It would be better to talk about energy efficiency targets, because we know what can be done on the ground, then to talk about renewable energy targets and then you should look at the resulting GHG savings and establish what else can be done,” he suggested.

The UK argument for flexibility could also be accommodated he said, if a binding renewables target were coupled with an ambitious GHG goal that required action in addition to clean energy sources.

A 30% target would be split between the 28 EU member states with economic factors and a country’s current energy mix and potential for renewables weighted to shed the load proportionately.

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