Real life benefits for citizens and businesses must be the benchmark of progress towards the European Energy Union, urged the EESC in an opinion adopted at its last plenary. The EESC also called on the EC to open up the European electricity market to industry, business and local prosumer communities.
Assessing the second annual report on progress towards the European Energy Union, the EESC urged the European Commission to "go back to basics": "We must remember why we are doing all this. We are doing it for citizens, for businesses and for the benefit of the whole of society." said opinion rapporteur Tellervo Kylä-Harakka-Ruonala (Employers' Group – FI).
The Energy Union is a complex construct, with several pillars, many objectives and numerical targets, but progress monitoring should primarily focus on practical indicators – energy prices, industrial production figures, jobs created, emission cuts, the opinion rapporteur insisted: "As the saying goes, you get what you measure, so if you measure benefits, action will focus on these. The energy system, the physical infrastructure, the functioning of the market are important, but let's also measure the benefits which accrue to companies, workers, consumers. If we were to do that, we would actually see the linkage with what is happening in reality and what the Energy Union means in Europe on the ground."
The EESC also called on the Commission to assess low-carbon policy instruments holistically, focusing on tackling taxes and charges that raise consumer prices and subsidies that distort energy markets and investment signals. This was crucial to attract investment, the rapporteur underlined.
The Committee further encouraged the EC to take measures to strengthen the EU's carbon handprint - a positive indicator which, in contrast to the carbon footprint, refers to the combination of all the good impacts of one's action on the environment. Europe's emissions currently account for about 10% of global emissions and are expected shrink to approximately 5% in the coming decade. "So we are still left with 95% of world emissions", pointed out Ms Kylä-Harakka-Ruonala, "To maximise its positive impact, Europe strives to export its low-carbon systems and products to the rest of the world. This will allow us to fight climate change not just in Europe, but across the globe."
The new rules proposed by the European Commission to make the electricity market in Europe compatible with renewable energy were the focus of another opinion adopted at the EESC's May plenary. While welcoming the package as a whole and the idea of placing consumers at centre stage, the EESC underlined that more needs to be done to open up the electricity market to all players: "European consumers must be able to take part in the whole of the electricity market. The EESC supports the right of all consumers - industry, business and private households - to generate, store and trade energy themselves. Local communities should also be given the right to set up, develop or rent local networks. But more specific rules are needed to make it possible to assert these rights." said opinion rapporteur Alfred Gajdosik (AT – Various Interest Group) : giving access to the grid, bringing down grid charges, removing legal and administrative barriers and setting up local venues where small quantities of electricity could be traded were some of the measures the EESC pointed to.
Decarbonisation was also a main concern. A strategic objective of the Energy Union, decarbonisation means that the external costs of conventional energy generation, such as climate change and health damages, need to be factored into prices. Failure to "internalise" these costs puts renewable energy at a competitive disadvantage. Still, "no effort is made in the entire winter package to rectify this distortion in the market," said the rapporteur. An appropriate system of taxation would be the best way to steer investments towards green electricity.
Finally, as one way to tackle energy poverty the EESC recommended helping vulnerable consumers to become prosumers. But for this, access to public loans or help from local or regional authorities was essential, the EESC stressed.
Both opinions were part of the EESC's articulated response to the Commission's "winter package" on energy - a set of legislative and non-legislative documents for a total of over a thousand pages. A first instalment appeared last month, when five opinions on the "Clean Energy for All" measures were voted. A further chapter of the EESC's response is in the pipeline for July, when the plenary will discuss an opinion on energy costs and prices.
To read the EESC's opinion on the State of the Energy Union see: http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.ten-opinions.41362
The EESC's opinion on the electricity market design will be available as of 13 June at http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.ten-opinions.41141