June 17, 2011 8:48 am

EU climate chief calls for renewables target

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The European Union’s climate chief urged the bloc to embrace a new target for its use of renewable sources of energy by 2030 in order to encourage greater development of wind, solar and other low-polluting forms of power.

Connie Hedegaard, the climate commissioner, argued that such a target – which would build on the EU’s already established 2020 goal – was vital to assure investors mulling whether or not to pour money into the sector.

“It’s high time to start discussing a renewables target for 2030,” Ms Hedegaard said at a conference in Brussels, promising that she would do “whatever I can” to reflect that goal in European policy.

Such a target – especially if it were legally binding – would give a further boost to a low-polluting form of energy whose prospects have brightened as a consequence of Japan’s Fukushima disaster, which has raised fresh doubts about the future of nuclear energy in Europe.

In Germany, in particular, the government is expecting renewables to take up much of the slack after its landmark decision earlier this month to accelerate the phase-out of its nuclear fleet.

Addressing the same forum in Brussels, Ms Hedegaard’s boss, José Manuel Barroso, the commission president, expressed confidence that renewables would move from an alternative form of energy to the mainstream over the next decade. “I believe renewable energy is neither a luxury nor a distraction,” Mr Barroso said.

European leaders threw their support behind renewables in 2009 when they agreed to derive at least 20 per cent of the bloc’s energy from renewable sources by 2020 – a goal the EU is on track to achieve.

Privately, commission officials said no decisions about a 2030 target had been taken, and that the matter was still under discussion.

In spite of their appeal to environmentalists, renewables have long been questioned based on their cost compared with fossil fuels, such as coal. Their feasibility is also at issue since solar panels and wind turbines do not work, for example, when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing.

Many policymakers believe that natural gas, which has become increasingly plentiful because of new recovery techniques in the US, will play a much bigger role in Europe’s future energy mix – a view endorsed by Gunther Oettinger, the energy commissioner.

The European Wind Energy Association, an industry trade group, has called for a binding 45 per cent target by 2030 – a goal Ms Hedegaard mentioned in her remarks but did not endorse.

One key to any future target would be its legal status. As Ms Hedegaard noted, the EU is on track to meet the renewables target and an overall 2020 emissions reduction target – both of which are legally binding – while member states are falling short on a voluntary 2020 target to improve energy efficiency.

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