The Energy Council marked another stage in the UK Presidency's bid to integrate environmental considerations into wider EC policies. Energy Minister John Battle - who was joined at the meeting by Environment Minister Michael Meacher - said that "this is the first time that an Energy Council has concentrated on environmental issues."
Much of the meeting was taken up by a rather unfocused "debate" on energy and the environment. In areas where substantive measures were discussed, the Council did little to please the environmental lobby:
Ministers endorsed the general thrust of the White Paper, and agreed on "the need to promote a sustained and substantially increased use of renewable sources of energy." They welcomed the idea of a "campaign for take-off" to promote key technologies, and invited the Commission to bring forward proposals to finance the scheme.
However, Ministers declined to commit themselves to the 12% goal - describing it merely as "indicative" and "useful guidance". Several Member States, including Sweden and Germany, were reluctant to agree to a quantified target.
Mr Battle has also blown cool on the 12% goal. The UK is aiming to increase the renewables' share of electricity supply - rather than primary energy - to 10% by 2010. Mr Battle's reluctance to back an ambitious EC-wide target may reflect some embarrassment that less than 1% of the UK's energy comes from renewables - less than any other Member State.
The Council said that liberalisation of EC energy markets "will increase competitive pressures on all sources of energy, particularly renewable energy sources." It invited the Commission to consider the need for measures to remove obstacles to the use of renewables and trading of electricity generated by them. The Commission is currently working on common rules for renewables - including legislation to ensure that generators are given fair access to electricity grids.
Ministers called for the promotion of renewables to focus on "mature technologies" in order to make them fully competitive in the short or medium term. They also stressed that future EC policies on agriculture and waste management should take full account of renewables, given the expected importance of biomass and energy-from-waste projects.
the Altener II renewable energy support scheme. The Commission had proposed total funding of ECU 30 million (around £20 million) for 1998/99. But last December, in the face of protests from the European Parliament, Ministers trimmed the budget to ECU
Hopes that the funding would be reinstated
fell foul of a row over plans to bundle together existing EC energy programmes within a single framework. The proposed five-year scheme would include Altener II, the SAVE II programme on energy efficiency, and a new CARNOT programme to promote cleaner technologies to burn coal and other solid fuels.
The Commission had proposed a budget of ECU 213 million for the five-year framework programme. The UK proposed a compromise budget of ECU 180 million, tilted mostly towards renewables and energy efficiency. However, the Council failed to reach agreement - mainly because the Netherlands, France and Sweden argued that even this figure was too high in the light of cost savings which could be delivered by bundling together the programmes.
The Energy Council welcomed the Commission's view that further common policies could include: an action plan for "improved and dynamic" energy efficiency standards for products, backed by certification and labelling; measures to encourage energy services and other measures to promote energy efficiency in liberalised markets; voluntary agreements between Member States and manufacturing and service sectors; and the "early review" by Member States of national standards for building energy efficiency.
Energy Commissioner Christos Papoutsis also presented a new Communication on energy efficiency. This says that the focus of any strategy "has to be the full realisation of the significant economic potential for energy efficiency which exists in the EU" - put at up to 18% of 1995 consumption by 2010. It notes that improvements in energy intensity are now running at less than one-third the rate between 1975-95.
Trade association Cogen Europe has complained that the Directive places a major barrier to the development of combined heat and power. Member States will be allowed to impose a consumption threshold for the eligibility of CHP schemes which would, Cogen says, "exclude them from the benefits of competitively priced gas."