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The position of renewables in Europe is shifting faster than a turbine blade (290km/h at the tips!). Germany wants renewables targets. The UK certainly doesn’t. The EU Commission wants targets, but only EU-wide. The European Parliament wants them on each member state, and chides the Commission for its “unambitious proposals”. But what if there’s a better way to promote renewables, and tackle the dirty elephant in the room, Europe’s increasing reliance on coal power?

Sandbag has produced a briefing with a potential answer: carbon performance standards for the power sector. In the absence of a properly functioning Emissions Trading Scheme, a solution could lie in either an Emissions Performance Standard (EPS, a maximum limit on the CO2 per kwh power plants can produce) or a Decarbonisation Obligation, where power suppliers have steadily to reduce the carbon intensity of their product.

Peter Rood wind turbine

Photo by Peter Rood on Flickr (Creative Commons non-commerical licence)

EPS legislation already exists at a State level in the US and is in active consideration at Federal level as President Obama seeks to move on climate despite the blocks on Capitol Hill. The Decarb Obligation on supplier is an alternative approach to the same issue creating a market pull towards low carbon and away from carbon intensive sources. The building blocks for this already exist thanks to the Fuel Quality Directive which requires suppliers to calculate and publish the carbon intensity of the power they sell, adding a requirement to steadily improve it would be relatively simple.

Both options would achieve the aim of getting electricity cleaned up first. They also avoid dictating to member states which technologies they have to prioritise when reducing their emissions; so Germany can build renewables, the UK can try Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS), and Poland can focus on nuclear(!).

The EU needs to tackle coal now, whilst continuing to invest in renewables. An Emissions Performance Standard, or a Decarbonisation Obligation, is a way to do both.

Feedback please

We recognise that there’s a lot more work to be done here to consider the pros and cons of these options and how they might work in practice. That’s why we’re inviting feedback on the idea, to build it into a real alternative to keep the EU supporting renewables and other low carbon technologies with legally binding policy. Please send your thoughts to phil[at]sandbag.org.uk

Notes from our discussion in Parliament in March are available here.