REPowerEU Plan carves out role for community energy but the EU still needs to address its fossil energy import addiction
Brussels, 18 May 2022 – Today, the European Commission published its REPowerEU Plan. This package outlines how the EU should move away from imported fossil energy from Russia amidst an ongoing energy prices and geopolitical crisis. Overall, while the package provides a role for local communities in ramping up renewable energy production and encouraging sustainable changes in energy consumption, it does too little to move away from the EU’s core problem: its reliance on imported fossil energy.
The package includes a number of strategies, action plans and recommendations aimed to ramp up renewable energy. Significantly, the Solar Strategy provides an important distinction between energy communities, which are a social and organisational concept, and other commercial forms of collective initiatives around renewables. It also highlights the need for Member States to lift barriers that energy communities are facing.
An accompanying Commission Recommendation on Permitting also states that Member States should simplify permitting procedures, particularly around grid connections - a big challenge for renewable energy communities. The package also prioritises providing vulnerable and energy poor households with access to renewables, which will help ensure that all Europeans can benefit from the energy transition, and that no one is left behind. Notably, the Commission has also included a legislative proposal to provide much needed improvements around permitting and local mapping of renewables, topics which REScoop.eu and other allies such as Energy Cities have been advocating for in the ongoing ‘Fit for 55’ legislative discussions, particularly in the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive.
Unfortunately, the communication does not do enough to effectively move the EU towards ending its reliance on imported fossil energy, which has been causing turmoil for markets and energy prices. It also fails to fully elaborate how vulnerable and energy poor households will be protected and moved away from gas. The Commission also announced an action plan to deliver a biomethane target of 35 bcm, despite not doing a proper impact assessment and thus raising significant questions with regards to the true cost-effective and sustainable potential for methanisation of biogas to replace fossil gas in the energy system.
Dirk Vansintjan, President of REScoop.eu, the European federation of citizen energy cooperatives, had to say: “The deployment of renewable energy technologies in the coming years will be unprecedented, and in order to achieve long-term energy security it is essential that all EU citizens and their local communities are able to benefit economically and take ownership of local renewable energy production and supply. Further acknowledgement of energy communities in the REPowerEU Plan will help provide a strong policy basis for strengthening policy support for the development of renewable energy communities.” However, Vanstintjan also cautioned “the EU has still not addressed the core of its main problem: the EU’s addiction to imported fossil energy. Until Europe gets better at producing and supplying its own clean renewable energy, Europe and its citizens will be vulnerable to energy crises - not to mention a climate crisis that will only continue to grow.”
Now that the EU has released its REPowerEU Plan, the EU institutions and Member States will have the task of updating ongoing legislative initiatives under the Fit for 55 Package. Many of the concrete proposals in the RePowerEU Communication will also need to be further developed.
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