Günther Oettinger, the European commissioner for energy, endorsed the controversial idea of having a new binding target for renewables after the existing 20% target for 2020 at an event in Brussels today (31 October).
“I think we need a new binding target for renewables,” he said at the launch of a new Energy Partnership of gas and renewables companies. “We need a clear outlook for renewables, and so some more obligations.”
The idea of setting a new renewables target for 2030 has come under fire from some in industry who say a technology-neutral approach, where the EU sets only a CO2 emissions reduction target for 2030, is better. The EU has three 20% targets for 2020 – emissions reductions, share of renewables in electricity and energy efficiency improvement.
Oettinger said a new CO2 emissions reduction target for 2030 is also needed. If the EU is to meet ambitions such as a reduction of emissions in transport and industry of 50 or 60 percent by 2050, it will need to set a binding overall emissions reduction target in 2030, he said.
The Energy Partnership launched today will represent the combined interests of the renewable and gas sectors. Gas is a natural complement to renewable energy because it is a flexible source of power that can be turned up during periods of no wind or sun. The partnership, which so far consists of Alpine Energie, Dong Energy, First Solar, GE and Shell, is calling for better infrastructure to connect renewable installations to gas plants.
Some environment campaigners such as Friends of the Earth have been wary of the partnership, concerned that the synergy between gas and renewables is being exaggerated in order to give “low-carbon” EU funding to a fossil fuel. Commissioner Oettinger said that with technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS), which stores CO2 emissions underground, “in the long-term gas could be part of a low-carbon electricity sector for many decades.” But green groups CCS is an unproven technology.
The partnership itself is divided on the issue of a 2030 renewables target. Dick Benschop, a vice president with Shell, said each of the companies have their own position on the issue. But he said the most important thing is to have one EU policy rather than many conflicting national policies.
Oettinger also said that certainty in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) must be restored if investment in renewables is to be increased. He said that the Commission's proposal for ‘back-loading' credits at the end of the next ETS trading period is a way to do this.
"The real problem of the ETS is nobody knows that will happen with our economy. Do we have stagnation in 2013, or recession in France?," he said. "The ETS should be more flexible to market developments in our economy."
The Commission's proposal to raise the ETS carbon price will be adopted on 14 November, and there is expected to be fierce resistance from member states to the idea of back-loading or set-aside. So far only Poland has come out firmly against the idea, with the remainder of member states waiting to see the impact assessment that will also be published on 14 November.
Oettinger urged the representatives of the gas and renewables companies to lobby national leaders, such as Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, to support the Commission's proposal.
"Tusk is a perfect prime minister, so European-minded,” he said. “But in this case, not at all.”