Danes prepare for green push
Denmark will take over the presidency of the European Union for six months in January and has signalled that it plans to pursue its national championing of renewables and energy investment at a European level. David Hayhurst reports
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Hopes and expectations are high among leading European green energy lobbyists and environmentalists at Denmark’s imminent assumption of the presidency of the European Union Council of Ministers for six months from January.
Denmark is a world leader in wind energy, a long-time proponent of renewables generally, a founding member of the North Seas Offshore Grid Initiative (NSOGI), and a trailblazer in electric vehicle use and infrastructure investment.
Martin Lindgreen, head of department at Denmark’s ministry of climate, energy and building, agrees that “the energy agenda for the Danish presidency will be extremely heavy”. He says his government will have a busy energy policy inbox, with implementation of the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive now in full swing.
There will also be fallout from the EU’s Energy Roadmap 2050 – an ambitious proposal to promote long-term EU energy self-sufficiency while simultaneously cutting carbon emissions – expected to be published in January. The Danes will look to secure some detailed positions among member states through agreed “council conclusions” that could move the roadmap towards concrete policy and regulatory goals. Lindgreen wants a Danish-led council to see “milestones [being] defined or approaches sought for later agreements on renewables and energy efficiency … oil and gas and CCS [carbon capture and storage].”
He says another priority will be following up on European Commission requests that member states be far more transparent than in the past about any bilateral energy agreements they have signed with non-EU countries. The Danes, like all the Scandinavian countries, are strong on transparency, and Lindgreen says his government wants to ensure “agreements made with third countries are in accordance with the rules of the EU internal market.”
Another goal will be seeking compromise agreements on the proposed Energy Efficiency Directive, “which has made a great deal of headway under the [current] Polish presidency”.
Meanwhile, the Danes will try to push forward Commission proposals for more spending on energy under its planned energy infrastructure renewal package, another 2011 proposal. With its many green energy elements, the £7.8 billion programme clearly chimes with Danish policy. Some projects are clearly relevant to Denmark, such as the development of an offshore North Sea grid to transport wind-generated energy. Such a ‘supergrid’ may also eventually connect to a solar supergrid providing energy generated mainly in southern Europe.
That said, Lindgreen stresses that Denmark’s “will not be a ‘green green green’ presidency. We will have to be unbiased and impartial in trying to reach compromises”.
H e is loath to discuss specifics on Denmark’s approach to promoting the supergrid or on promoting greater electric vehicle use in Europe.
Meanwhile, Eurelectric secretary general Hans ten Berge says he hopes Danish stewardship will prioritise the rationalisation of renewables’ real costs within EU energy policy.
The EU is trying to ensure renewable sources provide 20 per cent of Europe’s energy by 2020. But with most renewable sources heavily subsidised across the EU, there is concern that this support could prove shaky as governments feel the fiscal squeeze, and one that could tighten considerably in the coming weeks and months.
“The real cost of renewables is [not reflected in the actual] market price at the moment,” he says. “If you want to go to 20 per cent by 2020, you have to subsidise it. However, we would be very strongly in favour of having a decent carbon price instead of subsidies.
“We accept that subsidies need to continue until we have this 20 per cent target achieved by 2020. But we favour in the meanwhile using a much stronger European trading system – the Emissions Trading System [ETS] – to shift after 2020 to carbon-based pricing when the market would be more competitive. A strong ETS would enable competition between all low-carbon options – energy efficiency, CCS, nuclear and renewables – based on market costs, not on subsidies.”
Ten Berge also hopes to see the Danish presidency push for an end to market over-regulation, in order to “make sure that we are on track to a point where the ETS is the main driver of carbon neutrality”.
Other onlookers are still banking on the Danes to hold to their green credentials. Ana Aguado Cornago, chief executive of Brussels-based lobby group Friends of the Supergrid, says: “We expect the Danish presidency to act as one of the major motors to advance the idea of a European supergrid.” This, she says, would promote “deployment of large-scale renewable energies all over Europe”.
She explains: “First, this demands much more infrastructure investment. This infrastructure needs to be designed to accommodate variable energies, and those coming from sources very far from areas of demand. And, of course, you are talking about a much larger grid being able to balance all the variable energies.”
A green energy-friendly country such as Denmark “understands the importance of investing in the right network”, says Cornago. As a key member of the NSOGI, “Denmark may now feel the time is right to take political leadership”.
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