The European Commission is to significantly scale back its mandatory renewable energy targets from 2020, which could undermine a key aspect of the Government’s rationale for the construction of pylons and its move towards wind energy as part of the strengthening of the national grid.
The commission will next week publish a long-awaited energy and climate change proposal for EU greenhouse emissions and renewable energy targets post-2020.
Leaked copies of the proposal suggest that it will refrain from imposing binding targets on renewable energy on individual member states. Defined targets of a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions are likely to be proposed, allowing countries the option to implement these reductions as they choose, including through renewable sources.
While current EU rules require that 20 per cent of EU energy consumption come from renewable sources by 2020, the new targets for 2030 remove the obligatory target.
While the final text may yet change before next Wednesday's scheduled announcement, the absence of obligatory targets on how much energy countries should derive from renewable sources strikes a blow to one of the Government's key arguments in favour of increasing renewable energy – the obligation to adhere to EU renewable targets.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Minister for Communications, Energy and National Resources Pat Rabbitte said any weakening of EU commitment "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,” he said.
“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 added.
It has emerged that Ireland was one of eight countries, including Germany and France, that wrote to the EU Commissioners for Climate Change and Energy last month calling for the inclusion of renewable targets in the 2030 framework.
Environmental groups have strongly criticised the commission’s draft proposals, which will now be sent to the European Council and Parliament for consideration.
Greenpeace said: “Unless it is binding, the 2030 renewables target would remain an aspiration without any legal obligation on EU countries to develop renewables,” the Brussels-based NGO said this week.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 with the US – 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.