Battle lines are being drawn over the future of renewable energy self-consumption in Europe following the publication of legislative proposals last fall.
Spain is among the European Union member states expected to fight renewable energy self-consumption proposals contained in the "Clean Energy for All Europeans" package due to come into force from 2021 up until 2030.
The Spanish administration, which is ideologically opposed to renewables and has sought to hamper their progress for the last five years, is understood to be taking aim at European plans to encourage energy sharing over community microgrids.
Other member states likely to oppose various renewable energy components of the "Winter Package" include the Czech Republic and Poland, which rely heavily on native coal power, and possibly the Netherlands, which holds major gas reserves.
Meanwhile, France’s stance on the proposals “will depend on who’s leading the French government,” said Daniel Pérez Rodriguez, a partner with renewables-focused law firm Holtrop in Spain. France, which is both pro-renewables and highly dependent on nuclear power, holds presidential elections this year.
Opposition to the renewable energy-related ingredients of the Winter Package could water down proposals that European Energy Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič called “a new transformational paradigm.”
But other groups said the proposals are already weak.
With measures such as capacity payments for traditional power sources and the axing of priority dispatch for renewables, “the whole package looks a bit weak compared to what was agreed on in Paris,” said Sebastian Mang, EU energy and climate policy assistant at Greenpeace.
As it stands, the Winter Package’s proposals for empowering families and communities to produce their own renewable energy -- what Greenpeace calls "energy citizens" measures -- are one of the strongest points of the thousand-page legislative bundle.
“What the Winter Package does well is better address newer technologies such as demand response and storage, and innovative business models such as aggregation and community energy schemes,” said Julian Jansen, senior analyst at Delta Energy & Environment.
The measures are expected to prove unpopular with some of Europe’s more coal-dependent, utility-focused nations, however. And they are a particular concern for the Spanish government because its energy legislation does not currently cover the development of microgrids.
Spain’s leadership is also against self-consumption because it fears a loss of tax income from current high electricity prices.
Nevertheless, the self-consumption proposals might be one of the hardest parts of the Winter Package to fight, since they benefit voters. The rest of the plan is mostly focused on utilities.
“Poland and Spain will be likely against it, but the European Parliament will see this as something that can bring Europe closer to the people,” Mang said.
Getting close to the people is a big issue for the EU after the U.K. opted to leave the Union last year.
Given Brexit, it is uncertain what role Britain will play, if any, in the forthcoming Winter Package debate; since the U.K. government has recently hardened its stance on renewables, “it would be better for them not to be at the table,” Pérez said.
Another question is how long it will take for member states to agree on the package. Pérez said it might be approved this year. Mang said “it should take no longer than two years.”
Jansen thinks longer: "It will be a while until changes are actually implemented."
Whatever the timeframe, there is still plenty of room for Europe’s political landscape to shift in a way that changes the prospects for renewables.
Writing in New Europe, Commissioner Šefčovič said: “The Energy Union house is now at a stage [where] its residents can move in. Its residents and owners are all Europeans who can now start benefiting from a modern low-carbon economy.”
In truth, it might be fairer to say that the Winter Package has just opened the door a little more. It remains to be seen whether some of the vested interests in the European Union will end up closing it again.