Columnists: Brook Riley, Rockwool International

Published on: 25 Nov 2015

Don't cap efficiency, EU Commission

The European Commission is restricting the ambition of its modelling for next year’s review of the 2030 energy efficiency target. Instead of including 35% and 40% scenarios, as it did in the Energy Efficiency Communication last year, we've learnt DG Energy is planning to cap the modelling at 33%. This would be a disaster. Unless the decision is reversed, any chance to push a higher efficiency target is over before it’s even begun.

As you can imagine, the Brussels-based efficiency community is scrambling to fix the problem. Here are our top two arguments:

The European Parliament has repeatedly called for a 40% target, most recently in its resolution for the COP21 climate talks. So not even modelling 40% would be a deliberate slap in MEPs’ faces. The Luxembourg Green Claude Turmes is already on the warpath, accusing the Commission of launching a ‘pre-emptive strike on energy efficiency’. As I write, MEPs of all the main parties are piling in. They’re sending a cross party letter (coordinated by Belgian socialist Kathleen Van Brempt) to Vice President Sefcovic and Commissioner Arias Canete.

The second argument is that President Juncker, Sefcovic and Arias Canete have repeatedly promised to secure a binding efficiency target of at least 30%. Note the word ‘secure’. Proposing a 30% target is easy. Getting an agreement in the Council is the hard part. To give themselves negotiating room, I think it’s clear they will have to propose more than 30%. But the Commission never proposes it’s most ambitious modelling scenario. It needs at least one (higher) scenario in reserve - or its hands will be tied.

It’s time to make the most of wounded pride. The Parliament is very sensitive to signs that it’s being sidelined by the Commission. And Juncker and his commissioners won’t want to come across as weak and ineffective negotiators with the Council. Besides, the Commission has nothing to lose by at least modelling all the way up to 40%.

But in the meantime, it's yet another efficiency scandal. When the Commission modelled 35% and 40% efficiency last year, the scenarios were considered too expensive, despite their major benefits. But this was because costs were calculated using a very high 17.5% discount rate. The rate is now at 10%. It would be absurd to fix the main issue which discredited higher ambition, only to turn around and refuse to model it.

Why would the Commission even want to cap the modelling at 33%? I gather the main argument is that the Council agreed to 27% ‘with a view to going to 30%’. So policy people in DG Energy are saying – and this sounds like the Barroso appeasement policy all over again – that modelling higher ambition will unnecessarily provoke the member states. Come off it! Over two-thirds of the Council wanted 30% efficiency last year, and they know full well the Commission previously modelled 35% and 40% scenarios. No feathers will be ruffled.

Most important of all, 40% is not just a number. According to the Commission's own figures, it means a 40% reduction in gas imports, a 4.45% increase in GDP, millions of new jobs and at least €41.5 billion in avoided air pollution costs. Why isn't the Commission doing all it can to deliver those benefits, rather than looking for ways to justify inaction?

I'm confident we've got the means to win this fight on modelling, but it's a disgrace that we've even got to fight in the first place.

Other columns by Brook Riley