Interview Dominique Ristori, EU Commission: “EU’s governance on renewables won’t be punitive”

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European Commission Joint Research Centre, photos of peopleThe new Director General for energy at the European Commission, Dominique Ristori, faces the difficult task of “selling” EU leaders his proposals on a climate and energy strategy for 2030. Initially foreseen at the European Council on 20 and 21 March, a decision has been postponed to October. In this interview with Energy Post Brussels correspondent Hughes Belin, Ristori outlines member states’ first reactions to the Commission’s 2030 proposals, what remains to be decided, and what comes next. He says the “governance” of renewables policies should be “European”, but it won’t be “punitive”.

Q: What are the first reactions to your proposals for an energy-climate strategy for 2030?

A: Since the release of our proposals on 22 January, all member states recognise that they are the right basis for discussion. Of course, energy and climate are complex issues. Member states have made different choices in terms of energy mix and of national legal framework. Accordingly we will need intensive discussions [and] we will not reach agreement immediately in March. Nevertheless, the March European Council can and should be a useful meeting to progress in the right direction, i.e. ensuring at the end of the day stability and predictability, which are extremely important to investors.

Q: True, but countries from the Visegrad group (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) for example want a decision as late as possible whereas countries from the Green Growth group (led by the UK, Germany and France) want a decision as soon as possible. What is the right approach?

A: The right approach is to end up with a balanced position, i.e. incorporating both aspects. We need to build a robust compromise taking into account the diversity of situations we have. Rightly you mention the position of Poland and some other Eastern European countries. This has to do with their particular characteristics in terms of macroeconomics and energy. They would like a deeper analysis of the effects and consequences for their economies of a 40% of CO2 emission reduction target [in 2030]. This has to be seen in the context of carbon abatement rather than as a pure energy issue.

Q: The President of the EU Commission José Manuel Barroso wants to go to the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September with European proposals in his pocket. What’s the best moment for a deal with EU member states?

A: The March European Council will be an important step to start building a consensus. I see progress regarding for example our new approach on renewables. Some countries expected more; others less. Our proposal is a binding target at European level which gives more flexibility to member states, taking into account their energy mix, balanced with a European governance system to ensure that we will meet the target at the end of the day.

In addition, we are proposing – and this is largely supported by all member states – a new market-based approach to renewables’ support to finish with the distortion of competition and uncontrolled costs of some national support schemes. This is helping build a really good consensus. In any case, we will need to reach a common position [on the 2030 package] in time to influence the international climate negotiations, i.e. this year and possibly this autumn.

Q: If there is a consensus currently among EU member states, it’s puzzlement at your proposals for a ‘new energy governance system at’ European level. What does this mean?

A: We will better explain our position in the coming weeks. Member states have prepared or will prepare national action plans. We will give them guidance when necessary and we will assess them, to have a guarantee that the addition of all national [renewables] contributions will enable us to reach a European target of 27% [in 2030]. Presently, we are confident because on the basis of our information, many member states will on a voluntary basis go far beyond 27%. Hence, we’re not expecting difficulties in reaching the proposed new European target for renewables.

Q: But European governments fear that the Commission will stick its nose into their respective energy mixes. Can you reassure them on this point?

A: We have been working on the basis of a consensus from member states to reach a 20% [renewables] target by 2020. As far as the 27% target is concerned, our proposal is to abandon national targets in favour of just a European one. The governance we need is not ‘punitive’ governance to put heavy pressure on member states. We will build on the basis of national plans.

Q: Another unknown is your position regarding energy efficiency, which you postponed until autumn. How will it articulate with your current proposals for 2030?

A: Energy efficiency is and will remain an important component of European energy policy. We have to act on energy supply but also demand. As required by the EU energy efficiency directive, we will assess it and come up with proposals probably in September. We have to exploit more and better our potential in energy efficiency, bearing in mind in particular three targets: the housing sector (namely existing buildings), transport (namely vehicle consumption) and electrical equipment.

Q: The EU Commission will publish a study on energy subsidies. Where do we stand with this study ?

A: We have not yet chosen a contractor to run the study and I hope this will be the case next month. Then I hope that we will be in a situation to receive the results of their work this autumn. [Ed: the study is a 6-month contract]

Q: Ukraine is top of the agenda at the EU leaders’ meeting on 20 and 21 March. What can Europe do for Ukraine in the field of energy?

A: In the context of Ukraine, energy is a particularly sensitive issue. We should certainly continue to help Ukraine in this difficult transition period. It is important to help Ukraine progress in the context of a new democracy as well as on energy issues. We already have some reverse flows functioning [to transport] gas from Europe to Ukraine: this is the case for Poland and Hungary. We also have fresh projects ready to ensure a new link between the main Ukrainian [gas] storage facility and the gas [pipeline] Ukraine-Slovakia. This will certainly be discussed in the following days.

[Ed: EU energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger has invited Ukrainian and Slovakian gas TSOs to a technical meeting on reverse flows in Brussels next week.]

Q: EU leaders will also talk about Europe’s relationship with Russia. Could we sustain an ‘energy war’ with our eastern neighbour?

A: We should take into consideration all aspects, including where we are today in terms of economic and energy relations with Russia. Russia represents almost one-third or 30% of our gas imports, but we also import oil, coal, electricity and nuclear fuel. This is why it will be important to examine every possibility to put an end to this present crisis.

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