EU governments to reach renewables deal

Council to agree indicative targets, softer sanctions, safeguards for national support schemes

EU energy ministers will tomorrow reach a first reading common position on the renewable energy directive proposed in May by the European Commission (ENDS Daily 10 May). The accord has been made possible after diplomats made progress recently on key outstanding issues. Only a month ago, Commission and member state officials were warning that no deal would emerge until next year (ENDS Daily 8 November).

In line with the Commission's plan, ministers will agree "indicative," or non-binding, national targets for increasing renewable energy capacity. Draft negotiating text seen by ENDS Daily shows also that they will agree reduced targets for six countries. The cut for Austria and Sweden remains unknown. Targets will be lowered from 35% to 31% for Finland, 25% to 21% for Italy, 12% to 8% for the Netherlands and 45.6% to 33.6% for Portugal.

A fight with the European Parliament is now in the offing since MEPs voted for binding targets backed by legal sanctions (ENDS Daily 17 November). It is a battle that the parliament might eventually win since the minority of EU governments in favour of binding targets is understood to be growing - the latest convert being Germany.

The Commission proposed that states should report annually on how they were setting and meeting indicative targets, and suggested it would set mandatory targets if progress was shown to be "incompatible" with a wider EU goal to increase the share of renewables in energy consumption to 12%. Ministers will introduce a three-year delay before the first report and remove any reference to mandatory targets.

They will also agree to safeguard national renewable energy support schemes for over a decade. Ministers will agree that the Commission should report on the pros and cons of each type of scheme after four years, at which time it could propose a harmonised EU support mechanism. But a seven-year transition period would follow before implementation of any such scheme. This 11-year delay is roughly in line with the parliament's vote.

Renewable energy generators will be disappointed by a weakening of provisions granting them priority access to electricity grids. Whereas the Commission proposed obliging distributors to take renewably-generated power before all other sources, governments have decided to leave this to national discretion.

In other changes, ministers will include the biodegradable fraction of municipal and industrial waste, large-scale hydropower, landfill gas and organic waste from forestry and agriculture in the definition of renewables. They will also change the legal base of the directive to stress its environmental dimension over its importance for the internal market. In practical terms this means countries wishing to set stronger goals will have to go through fewer EU legal hoops to do so.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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