Energy efficient “chicken” always tastes the same…

Remember that scene in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, where the protagonist, James Dean, is taunted into playing “chicken”? Two cars race towards the end of a cliff, the first one to jump out loses and is the “chicken”. The game ends bitterly, however, as Buzz, the gang member who challenges James Dean, gets his sleeve stuck on the car door handle, preventing him from jumping out and causing him to ‘win’.

Nearly 60 years after this scene graced the big screen, we saw a different game of “chicken” between the Institutions of the European Union regarding the Energy Efficiency Directive. The Parliament had pushed hard for an ambitious document knowing that the Council lacked leadership and unity on the EED, whilst Member States pushed back harder with the knowledge that if an agreement was not reached under the Danish EU Presidency, Parliament would likely have to shelve the Directive until the Irish EU Presidency in January 2013. The sides looked deadlocked as they raced towards failure in a high-stakes game which gambled a potential GDP increase of €34 billion and 400,000 additional jobs by 2020. Nevertheless, on 14 June, after 6 trilogue negotiation sessions spanning several months, the Council and Parliament finally reached an agreement on the Energy Efficiency Directive at the final trilogue. The question that emerged was who jumped first?

Simple answer? The Parliament. The EED, as approved by the Committee of Permanent Representatives, can be described as but a glimmer of the original Commission proposal. It outlines measures to achieve a 17 per cent cut in energy consumption by 2020 – a target that falls short of the 20 per cent initially proposed – and permits each Member State to set its own targets and present a national efficiency plan every three years (2014, 2017 and 2020). The Directive also falls short on addressing energy consumption of the housing sector; despite requiring 3 per cent annual renovation, it limits this to central government buildings (rather than all public buildings as originally proposed) of more than 500m2, and 250m2 as from July 2015. The agreed text, which provides only 38 per cent of initial savings proposed, thus falls significantly short and will require the Commission to propose new measures to “fill the gap”.

In reality? Both. While the EED was significantly watered-down by the Member States, the agreement does at least include legally-binding energy efficiency targets which will help reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and the dependence on imported fossil fuels which cost the EU €573 billion in 2011. One of the measures included requires energy distributors to deliver 1.5 per cent annual savings (though there will be a raft of exemptions) whilst the Energy Efficiency Obligation Scheme (Article 6) will be extended to all end-use sectors. The agreement is not ideal, but, as highlighted by the Commission, will create a “significant improvement on the current situation of non-binding targets, which would only result in a 10 per cent reduction in energy use by the end of the decade”.

Both the Council and the Parliament gambled on their desired outcome for the Directive, the result, as acknowledged by MEP Claude Turmes (Greens/EFA, Luxembourg) is a “missed opportunity” for energy efficiency. In the end, one suspects that this game of “chicken” has left everyone involved with the same aftertaste: bitterness.

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