New Energy Commissioner warned to cut energy waste

As the new European Energy Commissioner Laszlo Kovacs was appointed along with his 34 colleagues in the forum, this week, a coalition of non-governmental organisations launched a report warning he must act to curb massive energy waste from Central and Eastern European countries.

The coalition’s report showed that five of the new Member States studied are using at least twice the energy used by the previous 15 Member States for each unit of economic output. It adds that the level of wasted energy in the five countries analysed will in the future continue to exceed the levels of the EU-15 members unless bold energy inefficiency measures are taken in the EU.

“In the run up to EU accession, not enough was done to tackle this problem. Still today millions of euros are being wasted due to poor energy policies,” said Germana Canzi, WWF Energy Officer, one of the NGOs involved in the report. “Commissioner Kovacs now has a unique opportunity to make up for years of neglect of energy efficiency policy in the EU. To work on reducing the energy bill and end the massive waste in the EU would be a good start.”

The report, Ending Wasteful Energy Use in Central and Eastern Europe, analyses the energy sectors of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia. It highlights that the Czech Republic, for example, used nearly five times the energy the EU-15 would use for each euro of domestic product (GDP). Slovakia was the worst performer, followed by Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.

It goes on to claim that, in preparing CEE countries for accession to the EU, negotiations have focused mainly on market liberalisation and new investment in power generation and transmission infrastructure, rather than to the opportunities to be gained from reducing energy use or installing energy conservation measures.

In some cases, the report claims, existing energy efficiency policies were scrapped as a result of accession to the EU. For example, it says the Czech Republic scrapped a tax reduction scheme designed to encourage the purchase of the most efficient appliances on the market.

The coalition called for greater efficiency and conservation measures to be adopted to benefit the regions and the EUs economic competitiveness and security of supply. They point to the Commission’s own estimates which state that the proposed Directive on End-Use Efficiency and Energy Services could lead to a net economic gain of around €10 billion for the EU every year.

WWF has called for the annual 1% energy efficiency target of the draft Directive increased to at least 2% in order to explore the huge cost-effective potential of energy conservation even further.

However, this initially looks quite unlikely. At his appointment hearing Mr Kovacs said his first priority would be the completion of the internal energy market through ensuring the implementation of the second liberalisation package by all member states and adopting the proposals on improving energy infrastructure.

He said he would focus on renewable energy as a tool to boost European competitiveness and create high quality jobs, adding that nuclear power was an inevitable part of Europe’s current energy production.

His performance did not impress the Green Party MEPs at the hearing. Claude Turmes MEP for Luxembourg and Rebecca Harms Green MEP for Germany, both members of the Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy issued a statement saying:
“László Kovács’s hearing was an offence to the Parliament. It was thoroughly ill advised of him to come so badly prepared. In his answers he was unable to demonstrate vision for a European energy policy and lacked even a basic understanding of essential energy technologies.”

“In light of Kovács’s approach he will become a toy for the coal and nuclear lobbies.”

“At a time when oil prices are above 50 dollars a barrel and when climate related hurricanes have killed more than 1,500 people in the last month we need an energy Commissioner who has a clear vision and can strive to implement a sustainable energy policy. Kovács is not the right person for this job.”

The NGO coalition report also points out that the transition to market economies in the nineties has only marginally helped in reducing energy inefficiencies, and says that market reforms alone will not be sufficient to reduce the extremely inefficient use of energy without further policy intervention.

The report used data from the International Energy Agency and research conducted by the Central European University.

By David Hopkins

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