The Committee of the Regions (CoR) has called on the EU to set its sights past 2020 and commit to developing a long-term strategy that enables renewable energy to become a real competitor and truly alternative energy source for the years to come. Europe’s local and regional authorities laid out proposals for a support scheme for renewable energy arguing that only by taking a coordinated approach at EU-level coupled with sound investment, can these goals be achieved. The plans were proposed in the opinion, “Renewable Energy: A Major Player in the European Energy Market” presented by Witold Stępień (EPP/PL), Marshal of the Lodzkie Region, which was adopted during the CoR's plenary on 31 January.
With EU Member States committed to ensuring that renewable energy constitutes 20 % of the entire energy mix by 2020, the CoR backed the European Commission to kick start the debate and begin to consider plans that look past 2020. The Committee called for a full review of the EU's renewable energy strategy after 2020 raising concerns that current plans are short-sighted and that there is a growing urgency to ensure a far more coherent approach to delivering a truly sustainable energy sector. The CoR argues that a shared European strategy is needed that makes careful use of subsidies and optimises the use of regional cooperation to encourage Member States and local authorities to continue down the right path. The Committee also suggests that the EU should consider "the possibility" of becoming 100 % reliant on renewable energy by 2050.
Witold Stępień said, "As in the future renewable energy sources will constitute a considerable share of energy consumed by the European society, it is crucial to ensure their coordinated development. Furthermore, no significant increase in the share of renewable energy sources will be possible unless current support schemes are improved. The key elements in the future development of renewable energy sources will involve coordinated subsidy schemes to support investment enabling the operation on a competitive market, increasing the role of the regions in the distribution of funds allocated to support renewable energy, creation of centers of renewable energy in the regions to allow for the transfer of local know-how".
The Committee laid out proposals to achieve these ambitious objectives through the implementation of a pan-European support scheme which would require EU investment and a reduction in fossil fuel subsidies. The support scheme for renewable energy should include:
the establishment of a pan-European fund to support renewable energy sources;
coordination at European level;
increasing the role of regions;
multi-level management of the schemes;
offering of subsidies;
the development of infrastructure providing improved electricity grids and smart grids;
and the costs shared fairly among EU Member States.
The Committee also notes that the importance of cross-border and inter-regional cooperation should also not be underestimated. Considerable investment in infrastructure – in terms of upgrading energy networks – is needed to broaden the access to renewable energy. Often renewable energy sources are not located close to final consumers so investment is urgently needed to broaden distribution. The CoR also argues that it was important to combine different renewable technologies in the regions through the application of smart grid technologies, balancing local electricity needs with production so increasing the energy security of the regions and reducing dependence on long-distance energy imports. The important role of renewable micro-installations should be considered and it was essential to encourage the emergence of "prosumers" - consumers who create energy for their own use.
Following adoption of the opinion Stępień noted that, "As the rapporteur, I feel honored to have worked in cooperation with other representatives of European regions in the CoR to create a document that will express the common stance of the European regions on the issue of renewable energy. Thanks to the contribution of my colleagues, their suggestions and our constructive debates during CoR meetings, the document includes a broad perspective and presents needs and expectations of the inhabitants of all European regions and at the same time is in line with the strategy of the Lodzkie Region, which considers renewable energy as a crucial element of its development strategy."
The debate is fuelled by the broader EU objectives of tackling climate change, ensuring European energy security and achieving energy independence from external sources.