EU energy ministers agree Altener II funds

Commission disappointed by reduced budget for renewable energy support programme

EU energy ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday agreed Ecu22m funding for the first two years of the Altener II renewable energy support scheme, which is due to run for five years from January 1998. This is over a quarter less than the Ecu30m proposed by the European Commission in March, but still represents a substantial increase over the total Ecu40m budget of the five-year Altener I programme, which expires at the end of December.

The Altener I and II programmes are designed to support faster development of renewable energy sources in the EU. Launched in 1993, Altener I had specific targets of doubling the share of renewables from 4% of consumption to 8% by 2005, trebling production of electricity from renewables and securing a minimum 5% road vehicle fuel share for biofuels.

The Commission greeted lower funding for the scheme with disappointment. The amount "reflects insufficiently the high priority the actions in favour of renewables should receive, and [the Commission] considers that this amount does not prejudge either the discussions concerning the 1999 budget or the budget of the Energy Framework Programme," a Commission spokesperson said.

Environmental groups are even more unhappy with the decision. In a statement released just before the Energy Council, Climate Network Europe described the Commission's Ecu30m proposal as encouraging but still not enough. "If the Council waters down even this low budget this could be extremely harmful for [the] Kyoto [climate change negotiations]," the group said.

At the Council meeting, energy ministers were presented for the first time with the Commission's recently adopted white paper on renewable energies, which proposes doubling the share of renewables from 6% to 12% of EU energy consumption by 2010 (ENDS Daily 21 November).

According to a national official, no formal discussion took place, as the white paper has not yet been translated into the EU's 11 formal languages. It is, however, expected to be adopted by ministers next spring under the UK presidency.

One national official told ENDS Daily said that the UK presidency was expected to give the white paper a very high priority, which corresponds with EU energy commissioner Christos Papoutsis' strong wish to obtain the necessary ministerial approval as soon as possible.

Energy ministers also reached a common position on a Commission proposals for a directive to liberalise the EU natural gas market. Mr Papoutsis stressed after the meeting that he expected the directive would lead to more competition in the EU gas market resulting in lower gas prices for industry and power generators, and that the expected increase in the use of natural gas would have environmental advantages particularly in power generation.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111; European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111; Climate Action Network, tel: +32 2 231 0180.

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