Commission sets out EU energy supply futures

Green paper stresses role of renewables, sends mixed messages on nuclear power

The EU faces enormous challenges to its security of energy supply, the European Commission said yesterday in a green paper intended to launch a debate on future of energy policy. The paper says that the EU should pursue strong demand management measures and promote renewable energies in order to wean itself off fossil fuels.

Without action now the EU will increase its dependency on imported energy from 50% currently to 70% in 2030, the Commission warns. Projections show that under this scenario the share of fossil fuels in total energy demand would rise from 79% to 86%. Renewable energy growth would fall far short of the EU's target of 12%, rising only two percentage points to 8%. Nuclear would fall from 15% now to just 6%.

Demand should be controlled principally by completing the liberalisation of EU energy markets, introducing energy taxes and organising energy efficiency schemes, it says. The EU must also tackle an "imbalance" in modes of transport, with road vehicles consuming over 80% of all transport sector oil. "It is time to be blunt about the position of road transport for goods haulage and the position of private cars in cities," it says.

Running right through the document is the spectre of climate change caused by increased fossil-fuel combustion. The paper's assessment of nuclear energy's role in this connection has attracted widespread attention, with the atomic energy industry and anti-nuclear campaigners waiting to see whether it would put nuclear back on the energy agenda.

EU transport and energy commissioner Loyola de Palacio said she had tried to open a debate without "ideologising" the issue and "without hiding any elements." In the end both communities have drawn comfort from the text, which gives a neutral account of nuclear's pros and cons.

Some strongly pro-nuclear language was removed before approval by the full college of commissioners, however. In a late draft from Ms de Palacio's department, the paper said the part played by nuclear energy in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions was "played down" by politicians and by public opinion, who were "clearly not sufficiently aware" that without nuclear energy the EU could not meet its international commitments.

The passage caused a protest from Belgian energy minister Olivier Deleuze and his green party colleague and environment minister Magda Aelvoet: "The green paper even allows itself to criticise national policies...as though the governments in question did not have the necessary knowledge."

The published paper is more sanguine. "The present [nuclear] phase-outs [under which five of the EU's eight nuclear states have renounced the technology] do not affect the Community's ability to fulfil Kyoto objectives by 2012," it says. It adds, however, that emission cuts beyond 2012 would be more difficult without nuclear.

The same earlier draft also made adroit use of statistics to enhance the climate-saving case for nuclear. Generating electricity through atomic energy saves 800m tonnes of carbon emissions annually, it said. In the final paper, this estimate had been revised down to 300m tonnes.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, see also the green paper and the earlier draft

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