MEP wants surge to more eco-friendly electricity

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Series Details Vol 7, No.16, 19.4.01, p17
Publication Date 19/04/2001
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Date: 19/04/01

By Laurence Frost

PROPOSALS to boost the production of eco-friendly energy will soon be the subject of a renewed battle between Euro MPs and EU governments, if Mechtild Rothe has her way.

The German MEP will stand by her bid to apply binding targets to EU countries when her draft parliamentary position on the renewable electricity directive goes for its second-reading vote in June.

The report, strongly endorsed at the first-reading, seeks to impose a legal obligation on member states to meet the overall target of increasing green electricity's market share to 22% by 2010, up from its current 12%.

The targets are underpinned by a ten-year hold-off on EU action against government support for the green energy sector, normally prohibited under Commission rules on state aid.

In their common position reached last month, EU energy ministers argued that non-binding 'indicative' targets would be more appropriate, given that factors outside their control could hamper their ability to meet them.

Energy chief Loyola de Palacio has said she would have preferred to propose binding targets, but had been forced to abandon the plan in the face of stiff resistance from member states.

The European Commission is likely to be firmer in resisting their moves to widen the definition of renewable energy to include large hydroelectric power plants.

Officials will be reluctant to envisage a return to state subsidies for a sector that already produces some of the EU's cheapest electricity, accounting for most of green power's current 12% share.

Rothe initially supported the Commission's bid to restrict government aid to smaller hydroelectric plants with a capacity below 10 megawatts.

But she is now backing a compromise that would allow governments to grant subsidies to expensive hydroelectric projects while minimising their anti-competitive potential. "My compromise proposal is that plants whose costs are comparable to other energy sources shouldn't be included in this kind of promotion," said Rothe.

Still more controversial is the bid by member states to include the biodegradable fraction of household waste - currently standing at around 40% - prompting fears from environmentalists that the directive could actually harm the environment by encouraging widespread waste incineration (see report, right).

Efforts to boost green power also sit awkwardly with the Union's parallel drive towards energy liberalisation.

Until now, EU governments' renewable programmes have been applied only to power generated within their own borders, regardless of its relative costs or efficiency.

Plans by the Commission for a scheme where green producers would be given tradeable green energy certificates were introduced in an early draft of the directive and then quietly dropped amid opposition.

Last month the European Court of Justice delivered a further blow to electricity companies' own proposals for a pan-European Renewable Energy Certificate System (RECS), when it ruled against an industry challenge to Germany's existing 'feed-in' system, similar to the one existing in Spain.

Wind-generated electricity producers say they prefer the national regime, under which utilities are obliged to pay them fixed rates for their power inputs.

The ruling is likely to compound ongoing differences among industries and governments, making it harder to imagine an easy transition to a renewable promotion scheme that can be single-market-friendly as well as green.

Article forms part of a survey on the environment.

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