With its Energy Package “Clean Energy for All Europeans”, the European Commission presented a comprehensive dossier at the end of last year, which describes the way forward to establish the planned Energy Union and to achieve the climate and energy targets. The package, which is currently intensively debated by the European Parliament, consists of no fewer than eight Directive and Regulation documents respectively. From the point of view of the Chamber of Labour, the proposals contain, apart from some important positive aspects also numerous critical points, which entail disadvantages for consumers and steer the European energy market in a wrong direction.
One target of this Energy Package is increasing energy efficiency. Undoubtedly it has to be welcomed that based on this – for example by optimised production chains or using energy saving appliances – 30 percent of the energy consumption shall be reduced by 2030. However, it is not acceptable that the calculation basis has omitted the transport sector, which is one of the most important energy consumers and greenhouse gas emitters. For example: with a share of 34.5 percent, transport is the main energy consumer in Austria.
Another priority of the Package is the promotion of renewable energy, mainly water, wind and solar energy. According to the proposal, their share shall be increased to 27 percent of the total energy production by 2030. However, there are no binding target values for Member States to actually achieve this share. Here too one has to fear a watering down of the Directive's actual objectives.
From Commission’s the point of view, consumers shall participate in the market more actively and be able to manage their electricity consumption by using smart applications to benefit from the liberalised electricity market. In particular, electricity production by private individuals through photovoltaic systems shall be promoted. However, this focus only addresses a small group of customers, which does not reflect the majority of consumers. The idea that private individuals would adjust their own electricity consumption flexibly to the respective available electricity offer is distant from the real life of the majority of household customers. Here, the Chamber of Labour demands a stronger consideration of the rights of the majority of consumers, which do not want or are not able to intensively deal with the electricity market.
According to the Commission, the path already taken in the electricity and gas market by separating network operators and energy suppliers shall also be extended to district and heating networks. However, in particular these networks question how reasonable the proposal is, as they are primarily small closed networks where delivery by different suppliers is not possible. The Package does not include the overdue strengthening of consumer rights concerning district heating networks, for example with regard to pricing, information duty or default action, similar to the existing ones in the electricity and gas market. The demand to introduce the mandatory use of smart meters for the gas market, district heating networks up to submetering in blocks of flats, represent enormous financial expenditure, which has predominantly to be borne by consumers and which does not bear any relationship to the possible benefit from an energy economic point of view.
However, the proposed improvements regarding the rights of consumers in view of minimum information in electricity supply contracts and accounts as well as transparency provisions have to be welcomed. It is also positive that in the future Member States will be obliged to record the number of people affected by energy poverty. However, the proposal does not include any methods as to how Member States could and should tackle energy poverty.
In addition, one has to take a critical view regarding the intended upgrading of EU agencies and organisations, without first putting their transparency, competence and control options to the test. An EU-wide coordination of energy-economic issues is undoubtedly important. However, it has to go hand in hand with extending democratic control. ACER (Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators) or ENTSO-E (European Network of Transmission System Operators) apply the principle of expertocracy instead of democracy. However, the decisions those take – most recently splitting the joint German-Austrian electricity price zone from 2018 – affect us all. Hence, it is the wrong way to create more agencies within the scope of the Energy Package, such as a new Association for European distribution network operators or a “Regional Operational Centre” (ROC).
The Chamber of Labour also categorically rejects the consideration of nuclear energy to achieve EU climate and energy targets. Fukushima and Chernobyl have shown that nuclear energy has no place in the sustainable supply of energy. However, many Member States still rely on this form of energy production, thereby denying the dangers of the plants and the still unresolved issue of the final deposition of nuclear waste.