Reflections on the current negotiations to revise the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive

Andrew Warren has been an astute observer of energy efficiency policies throughout Europe and his own country, the United Kingdom, for a considerable time. He has seen energy efficiency policies evolve significantly over the past couple of decades and he has never failed to give us his views. Andrew, who chairs the British Energy Efficiency Federation, recently wrote on the Business Green website about the current developments in the approval process of the EU clean energy package and, importantly, what it means for the UK, even with the decision on Brexit. There are important messages, however, for all of us.

 

Andrew Warren runs the rule over the upcoming round of Brussels’ negotiations on the future of energy efficiency policy, and why the UK should be paying close attention

No aspect of the European Union is as underpublicised, nor as misunderstood by Brits, as the trialogue process finalising the text of a European directive. This is the only occasion when the three main European Institutions meet formally together, to sort out the exact wording of what will then become law in all 28 countries in the EU – plus by default those like Norway and Switzerland that are officially non-members.

On November 7 that negotiating process will begin for the Energy Performance of Buildings directive. Under consideration is a range of proposals designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Depending upon how those negotiations go will determine whether the Europe-wide savings will be substantial. Or derisory.

Earlier this year the European Commission proposed altering and strengthening the existing Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. You can read the Commission’s proposal here (full personal declaration: in 1999 I chaired the official EU working party that originally proposed this directive, which was adopted in 2002; this would be its second subsequent updating).

During the trialogue the Commission staff will be “defending” their text.

Supporters of the reforms maintain wider action on building energy efficiency is critical to ensuring the EU meets its greenhouse gas targets. Buildings account for around 40 per cent of EU emissions, and according to the European Court of Auditors, around three quarters of existing buildings are classified as inefficient.

As I wrote in my blog last month, practically all the proposals for strengthening this directive were rejected by a majority of the national governments, meeting last June as the European Council.

This rejection occurred despite strong representations from most of the western European governments with whom the UK would normally expect to be bracketed. Whilst practically all the opposition came from the (poorer) former Communist countries in eastern Europe, their weight was added to by the UK BEIS junior minister Richard Harrington who attended the Council meeting on behalf of the UK government.

Counterweight to the UK

However, a strong counterweight has emerged this month from the European Parliament. The Parliament ITRE Committee (Energy and Industry) has adopted with a big majority – by 51 to one with 11 abstentions – its formal position on updating the Buildings Directive. It considerably improves upon not just the complacent national governments’ position, but even the original proposals by the European Commission.

The European Parliament’s conclusions strengthen the long-term renovations strategies (formerly to be found in Art. 4 of the, separate, Energy Efficiency Directive) by:

  • Ensuring that roadmaps for buildings’ improvements are substantiated by actions, milestones for 2030 and 2040 and measurable progress indicators.
  • Ensuring that the strategies have a clear 2050 goal, which is to achieve a “decarbonised building stock”. In a new definition, a decarbonised building stock is as a stock that performs to Nearly-Zero Energy Buildings level. This means buildings that are highly-energy efficient and that use renewable energy.
  • Requiring Member States to exploit the “trigger points” in the life cycle of a building to speed up renovations (again, a new definition is included). In the lifetime of every building, there are key opportunities to carry out a renovation that should not be missed (“trigger points”); for example when a building is rented, sold, changes its use, is extended, undergoes maintenance work, or structural retrofitting.
  • Requiring Member States to introduce “accessible and transparent” advisory tools, such as one-stop-shops for consumers, and energy advisory services informing on energy efficiency renovations and available financing instruments.

The Parliament also wants to reinforce the building’s smartness indicator (by introducing a new Annex with defined principles for a common methodology), and requires the European Commission to run a feasibility study on the possibility of introducing a building renovation passport. This is a document that provides a tailored and step by step list of measures to carry out deep renovations in buildings – and then records what has taken place. Energy efficiency advocates see this as a potentially key development.

Additionally, the European Parliament requires that in all new or renovated buildings with more than 10 parking spaces would be required to install electric vehicle charge points, in a bid to accelerate the roll out of zero emission electric vehicles across the continent.

Danish Conservative MEP leads

The lead parliamentarian (rapporteur) is the Danish Conservative, Bendt Bendtsen. He says there is “a solid majority in Parliament to boost energy efficiency renovations”.

“It is vital that Member States show a clear commitment and take concrete actions in their long-term planning,” he adds. “This includes facilitating access to financial tools, showing investors that energy efficiency renovations are prioritised, and enabling public authorities to invest in well-performing buildings.”

The next step will be for the government of Estonia 0 which now holds the six-monthly Presidency – to chair the “trialogue meetings”, convened entirely to finalise the eventual text.

The Estonians are aiming to reach a final agreement on the directive before the end of this year. To do so, two of these trialogue meetings – the negotiations between European Commission, Parliament, and Council – are scheduled for 7 November and 5 December, with a view to making the formal announcement of agreement at its December 18 Energy Council. Given the remarkable levels of agreement between the Commission and the Parliament, the national governments will be under considerable pressure to give considerable ground.

It is too early at this stage to say whether a deal will be reached before the end of the year, or whether the incoming Bulgarian Presidency will conclude the negotiations. But as long as agreement is reached before the end of March next year- at least 12 months before Brexit deadline day – the legal position is that any new text will automatically become part of UK law. So completely relevant to Brits. Even after March 29, 2019.

 

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