The European Commission today unveiled a new climate change package, which removes the obligation on member states to reach specific renewable energy targets by 2030.
While current EU legislation legislates for a 20 per cent binding renewable target across the EU by 2020, with specific targets for member states, the new package withdraws obligatory targets on how much energy countries should derive from renewable sources. Instead, a binding renewable target of 27 per cent has been proposed for the EU as a whole, but no specific targets for member states. The target for a reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 has been set at 40 per cent.
The new EU package – which may still attract significant changes as it weaves its way through the EU process - could potentially undermine a key aspect of the Irish Government’s rationale for the construction of pylons and its move towards wind energy . Among the key arguments made by the government in favour of the expansion of Ireland’s wind energy resources, has been Ireland’s obligation to meet EU targets.
Last week Minister for Communications , Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte told the Irish Times that changes at an EU level "would not lead to a shift in domestic policy with respect to renewable electricity generation." "Irish renewable energy policy imposes no significant cost on consumers as we have abundant wind resources that generate power at an economic rate. When one puts the reduction in spending on imports of gas, oil and coal into the balance, our renewable energy policy is a no brainer, " he said.
Speaking in Brussels today, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said that the package was “an ambitious and realistic framework,” but environmental NGO’s were strongly dismissive, with Greenpeace calling the proposal a “sell-out.”
Ireland was one of eight countries, including Germany and France, who wrote to EU Commissioners for Climate Change and Energy last month calling for the inclusion of renewable targets in the 2030 framework.
However, for many member states the issue of renewable energy targets has become embroiled with the problem of rising energy prices.
The high cost of energy for consumers in the EU, particularly in comparison to the US which has seen a sharp drop in energy prices partly due in part to shale-gas, has focused attention on the renewable industry which is heavily subsidised in most countries. With subsidies pushing up the price of energy for consumers, some member states are concerned about the impact of this on European competitiveness.
Britain, which has been increasing its investment in nuclear power, was one of the countries strongly opposed to a binding renewable target.
The Irish Wind Energy Association, which represents companies and bodies involved in the production of wind energy, gave a "cautious welcome" to the announcement, adding that it would call on Irish policy makers to show active leadership in ensuring a more ambitious 2030 climate plan when Heads of State meet to discuss the issue in Brussels in March.
Concerns about competitiveness and the “fragmentation of internal market” were some of the reasons cited by President Barroso for not introducing binding renewable targets at a member state level, adding that member states should be given “flexibility” in how they meet their emissions targets.