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Backstage battle over energy efficiency directive

Targets proposed in the EU's draft energy efficiency directive are being contested by member states, with Britain and the Netherlands pushing for some provisions to be deleted entirely, reports EurActiv.

One headline figure in the original directive - a mandatory 3% annual public buildings renovation rate - has been earmarked for deletion in the latest EU draft, seen by EurActiv. One EU diplomat involved in the discussions told EurActiv that the amendment had been made because of "the current budgetary restraints of member states.

"Because of these, there are many questions by member states about what the implication of this specific provision would be," the diplomat said. "There are many different views in play on how this could be changed."

Buildings account for 40% of the Europe's primary energy consumption and 36% of the CO2 emissions.

But only public buildings were included in the original directive and opt-outs were given to social housing and structures under 250 square metres, such as post offices. These are significant because publicly owned properties represent 12% of Europe's total housing stock.

The revision document proposes that this opt-out be extended to buildings under 500 square metres.

Other opt-outs, such as one for energy companies tasked with making energy savings of 1.5% a year among their final customers, have also been expanded to include small firms employing up to 50 people and turning over a maximum of €8 million a year.

The previous opt-out had been for companies employing fewer than 10 people with an annual balance sheet of €2 million a year.

"It's a very concerted and well organised attempt not to save energy," Friends of the Earth spokesman Brook Riley told EurActiv. "The revised document is so full of loopholes that there is very little substance or structure left to it."

In a sign of the battles being fought behind the scenes, several member states submitted comments, which EurActiv has seen, to the Polish presidency.

While energy efficiency can offer excellent long-term returns, EU member states expressed concerns about the original directive's potential short-term costs.

Britain complained that the building renovation proposals were "likely to result in considerable extra expenditure for member states on works which are not always cost-effective".

Amsterdam even proposed a 'deletion' of the directive's flagship 1.5% savings target for energy companies.

"The Netherlands is not in favour of an obligatory target set by the EU," the submission said. "Member states should be able to decide for themselves on the level of energy efficiency measures needed."

Such statements elicited deep sighs from environmentalists.

The original proposals had "not been very bold" in the first place, Riley said. "They had already gutted the directive compared to what their own impact assessment said was needed and now the Council is weakening it further," he commented.

The revised document is expected to form the basis of a progress or status report that will be presented to EU energy ministers on 24th November. The Polish presidency will then prepare a new draft text which will be discussed in a working group in mid-December, before the incoming Danish presidency takes on the portfolio.

EU sources told EurActiv that the Danish presidency would see it as "most important" that the efficiency directive was in keeping with the "ambitious" targets set out in the 2050 Low Carbon Roadmap.

"If you weaken some elements, you have to strengthen others," said one.


4th November 2011

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