SNP EU Breakthrough for Scots Renewables

08 September 2008
Wins on transmission charging, North Sea grid, research centre funding, biofuels 10% target softened

SNP Member of the European Parliament Alyn Smith has expressed his delight with the vote today in the European Parliament's prestigious Industry, Research and Energy Committee on the proposed EU renewable energy Directive, which saw a number of real victories for Scots renewables as amendments drafted by Smith were voted through; as well as a substantial weakening of the mandatory 10% target on biofuels, which was opposed by Smith. The vote comes the day after Smith was nominated in the MEP of the Year Awards for his work in Energy, the only Scot to be nominated in any of the awards. Smith is an alternate member of the Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee which is leading deliberation on this dossier.

The Report, drafted by Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes, sets an EU-wide legal framework for the encouragement of renewable energy. Smith won a major victory on transmission charging, with his amendment targeting discriminatory charges being passed. The UK currently operates a discriminatory regime, and Smith's amendment will force the Commission to take action if, as seems likely, this provision is approved by the Parliament as a whole next month. Among other provisions the Report sets a "smart" 10% target for renewable energy in road transport for 2020, puts in place rigorous sustainability criteria for the production of biofuels, and allows Member States a number of flexible options by which they can reach their 2020 targets for cutting carbon emissions. The Report goes to the full Parliament next month for approval.

Speaking after the vote, Smith said:

"We have had a good day today. We have acted decisively to combat climate change and transform Europe's economy into a high technology, zero carbon market for the future. I congratulate my group colleague Claude Turmes for his hard work in turning this vision into a reality, I'm delighted at the SNP-Green co-operation on this dossier, it underlines the wisdom of our cohabitation with the Greens in the European Parliament.

"I'm delighted that several of our amendments passed and thank colleagues for their support. In particular, we won a major victory with the passage of Amendment 770, on discriminatory transmission charges. The UK government is currently in violation of current EU law in imposing discriminatory charges on Scottish renewables which connect to the UK grid though there are few current sanctions. We have succeeded in strengthening the relevant clause: it now calls for non-discriminatory charges to be "mandatory", and mandates the Commission to investigate such abuses and act on them. We shall certainly be putting heavy pressure on the Commission to enforce this clause.

"I'm also pleased that our Amendment 696, on research centres, is now part of the Report. The EU needs a coherent policy on funding and organising research into renewables, and I am determined that Scotland will be at the heart of these research efforts, not least with our new Marine Energy Research Centre in Orkney. It is also good news to see the construction of a North Sea marine energy grid secure priority "project of European interest" status for funding. Scotland stands to benefit massively from the increased capacity for renewables this grid will enable. Both these measures will bring the SNP vision of Scotland as Europe's Green Powerhouse that bit closer to reality.

"Less positively, our amendment encouraging the development of renewable energy in agriculture was not successful. I will be re-submitting this for plenary, as huge carbon savings are potentially available in farming and land management particularly from anaerobic digesters, small scale wind and PV on farms.

"On biofuels, we see a mixed result, and on balance I am satisfied that the compromise is workable and should not see the potentially disastrous knock-on effects I feared from the blanket 10% mandatory target. The 10% target remains, but 40% of this target will have to be met from non-food renewable energy, thus easing the food crisis and encouraging new technologies. Crucially, the target will be reviewed in 2014, allowing us to adjust for any adverse effects the target may have. Just as importantly we have rammed in mandatory strong sustainability criteria: biofuels will only count if they achieve a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emission, rising to 60% by 2015. In my view we achieved the best compromise we could here, though this debate will certainly continue to the Plenary session.

"On a different note, I am thankful that the Committee saw fit to reject Struan Stevenson's silly amendment which would have banned the construction of wind farms on peatland. Struan's science on this one has been widely condemned, and the sensible course is to treat each application on a case-by-case basis: a blanket ban would serve no purpose whatsoever."