Disagreement in Europe over efficiency targets

European energy ministers have reacted negatively to the European Commission’s proposed directive on energy efficiency targets.

The proposed directive, which focuses specifically on energy providers and public buildings, has met with opposition from some ministers, who claim in its current form the directive lacks flexibility. The proposal for the directive currently stipulates an obligatory 1.5 percent annual electricity saving which energy suppliers must provide their customers.  The dissenting ministers, among whom are the energy ministers of the Czech Republic and Finland, believe such a requirement would hinder competitiveness.

Another proposed target that proved unpopular was one concerning the renovation of buildings. Under this proposed measure, member states would be required to carry out energy efficiency renovations on 3 percent of public buildings. However, a number of ministers want this figure halved, on the grounds that the upfront costs of such a scheme would be too great.

Compromise a possibility

However, all is not yet lost. The European commissioner for energy, Günther Oettinger, has indicated there is still room for negotiation over the targets. “It’s a question of whether there is wiggle room given to member states. I don’t mind if it’s 1.5% or 3%; what’s important is that measures are taken to achieve the objective,” he said.

Despite the vocal dissenters contesting the targets in their current form, there are also those who feel the current proposal is about right. One such figure is Danish energy minister Martin Lidegaard, who says the directive could reduce the EU’s reliance of fossil fuels. “We must maintain the level of ambition, but we can be flexible as to the actual architecture,” he said.

Making changes to the proposals can be an intricate and time consuming process. To date, around 1,800 amendments have been submitted to the European parliament.

Energy island infrastructure

Another concern voiced by European Union member states, particularly island states such as Cyprus, Ireland and Latvia, regards the renovation of the trans-European energy infrastructure (known as Ten-E). These ‘energy islands’ are keen to highlight the importance of connecting their outlying island states to the grid at large. Latvia in particular has ardently argued that gas connection terminal linking Sweden to neighboring countries should be located within its (Latvia’s) borders. Its reasoning is that it has no other gas links to other European Union countries.

The problem with grid expansion, however, remains the cost. Core states such as France and Germany are reluctant to splash out, arguing that projects eligible for EU funding often put forward criteria that are far too vague.  “Procedures for authorization of projects of common interest must respect subsidiarity. A single EU model for organization cannot be imposed on member states,” commented French energy minister Eric Besson.

There looks likely to be some time yet before these discussions yield results. The Commission is obliged to present its report on the implementation of measures by 2013.

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