Renewable energy groups are hoping that a 35 percent clean power target proposed by the European Parliament will prevail over a less ambitious plan put forward by the Council of the European Union that aims for 27 percent.
The 2030 target negotiations held in January saw Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) pushing for stronger objectives than those proposed by the Council, not only for renewables, but also for energy efficiency and distributed energy regulations.
The parliament’s proposals, part of the European Commission’s November 2016 Clean Energy package, included adding transport into Europe’s energy efficiency plans, phasing out first-generation biofuels and giving citizens the right to self-consume distributed generation.
Clean energy advocates welcomed the measures, although the parliament came under fire for back-peddling on some issues. On energy efficiency, for example, MEPs toned down an initial 40 percent target to 35 percent, versus an EU Council proposal of just 30 percent.
The European Parliament was always expected to adopt a more bullish approach to Europe’s governance regulations and energy and efficiency directives than the EU Council, which represents the vested interests of member states. Renewables advocates are now waiting to see which view will prevail in "trilogue negotiations," which are informal tripartite meetings attended by representatives of the European Parliament, the EU Council and the EU Commission.
A final decision is unlikely to be reached before June, at the soonest.
On Twitter, the European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete, acknowledged that the “next negotiations won’t be easy." But the EU Commission will seek "to facilitate an ambitious agreement," he added.
Renewable energy bodies were quick to back the parliament’s position. “The competitiveness of Europe's wind industry really depends on getting an ambitious target,” said Andrew Canning, press and communications manager at WindEurope, the wind industry association.
Last year, he said, the wind energy sector contributed €36 billion (USD $45 billion) to the European Union’s gross domestic product and supported 263,000 jobs while generating €8 billion ($10 billion) in exports outside of Europe. “But this success is not guaranteed,” he said.
“The wind industry is at risk from growing international competition and declining policy ambition on renewables in Europe," said Canning. "Job growth in the industry has stalled in the last five years as many countries have become less ambitious on renewables.”
WindEurope calculations show aiming for a 27 percent renewable target instead of 35 percent would translate into €92 billion ($114 billion) of missed investments and 132,000 fewer wind industry jobs.
Industry sources said the European Commission is confident that it can achieve at least a 30 percent target because new data on renewables pricing showed this could be met for roughly the same cost as the EU Council’s proposed 27 percent, which was based on 2014 calculations.
Because of this, though, “the 30 percent, from our perspective, is ‘business as usual’,” said Aurélie Beauvais, policy director at the European industry body SolarPower Europe. “We think that, considering the Paris Agreement, we would need to go a bit further.”
Getting as far as 35 percent, as favored by the European Parliament, took an effort, she said. But a final target of somewhere between 30 percent and 33 percent, which some people believe is a likely outcome, “would lack the ambition we expect.”
And beyond the headline figure, there is also still considerable uncertainty over the details in the European target proposals.
The parliament, for example, gained green points by advocating strongly for consumers' rights to engage in renewable energy self-consumption across the European Union.
MEPs said consumers should not be subject to disproportionate charges on the energy they produce themselves, and that citizens should have the right to use energy from plants owned by third parties or obtained via peer-to-peer networks.
If passed, the proposal would give a major boost for the solar industry, wiping away national anti-renewables measures such as Spain’s notorious tax on the sun. But Spain is expected to fight the parliament’s stance.
And Germany, traditionally a staunch supporter of renewable energy self-consumption, has other priorities after having built a thriving residential solar market of its own. Getting a deal on self-consumption thus looks a lot shakier than hammering out a higher renewables target.