2.9.2011   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 259/48


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Energy infrastructure priorities for 2020 and beyond’

2011/C 259/09

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

requires that any initiative adopted at European level concerning infrastructure must take account of how these questions are managed at regional and local level;

stresses that the role and needs of local and regional authorities must be taken into account during the examination of any project to develop energy infrastructure, ensuring careful evaluation of the costs/benefits that implementation of such projects might generate at local, regional or even macro-regional level;

considers that the evaluation of energy infrastructure projects should measure the impact of these projects on energy security, the environment and landscapes, as well as on socio-economic development;

strongly supports the priority given by the European Commission to developing technologies linked to the creation of smart networks. Such networks will prove to be crucial in ensuring that the energy market operates smoothly by facilitating more effective and efficient use of resources;

is concerned for the fact that the European Commission is unable to propose a comprehensive and detailed plan for financing the programme to develop energy infrastructure;

requires that the CoR be heard on such crucial matters as the budgeting of the energy infrastructure investment programme, planned financing methods and the levels of contribution which will fall on each of the stakeholders, especially local and regional authorities but also all consumers.

Rapporteur

Mr LEBRUN (BE/EPP), Member of Parliament of the French Community

Reference document

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Energy infrastructure priorities for 2020 and beyond — A blueprint for an integrated European energy network

COM(2010) 677 final

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

1.

is pleased to see the European Union fully committed to this immense and crucial task of simultaneously developing a European energy supergrid, efficient interconnections and decentralised smart networks. The Committee of the Regions is delighted that, under this initiative, outlying regions are finally to be given appropriate consideration and integrated into these networks. Territorial coherence and interregional solidarity will be strengthened by putting in place these structures, on the express condition that all concerns and interests are heard and taken fully into account at the time these projects are developed;

2.

therefore welcomes the fact that, in its communication on Energy infrastructure priorities for 2020 and beyond, the European Commission notes the importance of ensuring that local and regional authorities participate throughout the decision-making process concerning modernisation of European energy infrastructure and in developing the future integrated supergrid. The Committee of the Regions stresses the fact that they should be involved from the very beginning;

3.

underlines that local and regional authorities have a major role to play in ensuring the success of projects put forward by the European Commission given their skills and responsibilities in a number of areas linked to planning, granting permits, investments, public procurement, production, transport, distribution, control of energy consumption and improving energy efficiency and the treatment and storage of energy waste. In this respect, any initiative adopted at European level concerning infrastructure must take account of how these questions are managed at regional and local level;

4.

welcomes in particular the attention paid to regional cluster mechanisms. In addition to facilitating and even accelerating the planning, financing, implementation, follow-up and monitoring of planned projects, the systematic creation of specialised regional platforms will prove vital in ensuring the full cooperation and support of local and regional stakeholders affected by new energy infrastructure;

5.

calls for special attention to be paid to timely and systematic information to citizens about new infrastructure. It is vital that local and regional authorities, which are in direct contact with citizens, have at their disposal the means and structures enabling them to inform and consult the public in a satisfactory way with a view to ensuring their support and backing for the project. The Commission should also ensure that the modelling used to gauge energy infrastructure needs is more transparent, that competition is introduced between these modelling frameworks and that local and regional authorities can grasp the parameters and methods of calculation used to establish these models;

Key messages

6.

concurs with the European Commission in recognising that the European Union will be able to reach its objectives on renewable energies, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, cutting energy consumption and security of supplies only if it agrees to major investments aimed at developing a highly energy-efficient economy, which involves modernising trans-European networks, developing interconnections and prioritising the integration of renewable energies into these networks, and also the extensive development of medium- and low-voltage networks as a precondition for achieving dispersed production from renewable energy sources;

7.

draws the Commission's attention to the Committee of the Regions' recent resolution on The consequences of the natural catastrophes in Japan and the consequences of the nuclear disaster: lessons for the European Union and specifically to points 14 to 16 thereof, and calls for these views to be taken into account in future energy infrastructure. It also calls for the targets in the area of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to be duly taken into account. It is especially important to check closely whether all countries achieve or exceed their goals with regard to reduction of emissions from fossil fuels such as coal, oil or natural gas;

8.

stresses the need to identify, according to their relative importance, where existing infrastructure could be enhanced or upgraded and where new major infrastructure is needed;

9.

stresses the need to set out additional measures to manage demand, along with the measures required to achieve the objectives set for energy savings and energy efficiency for 2020. The needs for energy infrastructure will depend on our ability to engage in more rational consumption;

10.

draws attention to the fact that appropriate national and European policies will enable the future European supergrid to become the engine for completing the European internal market in electricity and natural gas, creating real competition in this area. The Committee of the Regions believes that accomplishing an effective single market and creating an efficient integrated European energy network are absolutely necessary in order to ensure the levels of prosperity and cohesion as presented in the EU 2020 objectives;

11.

recognises the importance of having efficient gas infrastructure to foster diversification and security of supply and to reduce the energy dependency of certain regions, and stresses the need to introduce rules governing gas infrastructure to ensure increased flexibility, particularly to enable reverse flows, so as to free certain regions from their dependence on a single supply source, and deems it important to develop gas infrastructure taking full account of the contribution of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (GNC) terminals;

12.

feels that the measures proposed by the European Commission communication complement the third package since they are designed to respond to the demand for investment in the area of energy production and transport;

13.

recognises in this connection the role of energy market regulatory agencies as a guarantee of the appropriateness and effectiveness of investments in energy infrastructure, whether centralised or decentralised;

14.

strongly supports the priority given to developing technologies linked to creation of smart networks. Such networks will prove to be crucial in ensuring that the energy market operates smoothly by facilitating more effective and efficient use of resources. The Committee of the Regions calls for a consultation, information and exchange platform to be set up on the subject of the future smart network;

15.

considers energy efficiency a powerful and cost-effective tool for achieving sustainable energy in the future, and that it may go some way towards reducing the need to invest in energy infrastructure;

16.

is concerned that the European Commission is unable to propose a comprehensive and detailed plan for financing the programme to develop energy infrastructure. It therefore laments that it cannot make its voice heard on crucial matters, such as the budgeting of the programme, planned financing methods, and the levels of contribution which will fall on each of the stakeholders, especially local and regional authorities, but also all consumers;

17.

supports the European Commission's idea to create a European infrastructure fund that will provide financing for all major infrastructure projects of European interest, in the field of energy, broadband and transport, including TEN networks;

18.

is also disappointed that quantified objectives have not been drawn up on the benefits expected from this strategy;

19.

therefore strongly advocates that comprehensive and detailed information be established and circulated as soon as possible concerning the methods and means of financing being considered by the Commission and that it be given the opportunity to express its views on these matters in future;

20.

calls for the role and needs of local and regional authorities to be taken into account during the examination of any project to develop energy infrastructure. It is vital to proceed systematically with a careful evaluation of the costs/benefits that implementation of such projects might generate at local, regional or even macro-regional level. This evaluation should measure the impact of these projects on energy security, the environment and landscapes, as well as on the socio-economic development of the regions. Objections from the general public are known to be a major obstacle to the development of energy infrastructure. Demonstrating the potential benefits for local communities of developing energy infrastructure, as well as its impact on the environment could help considerably in removing such objections;

21.

recognises that the national level retains a vital role in coordinating investments in networks and interconnections. However, the Committee of the Regions reiterates the fact that a substantial proportion of renewable energy production and of reduction in energy consumption, in buildings especially, stems from initiatives taken at local and regional level;

22.

notes that developing electricity transport infrastructure between the EU and third countries may increase, or, even give rise, in certain cases, to the risk of carbon leakage, and calls the Commission, therefore, to urgently identify the changes that need to be made to the European market in allowances in order to avoid any such carbon leakage. A variety of options, such as a carbon inclusion mechanism, should be considered;

The role of regional and local authorities

23.

recognises the economic, environmental and social importance of the project to modernise European energy infrastructure, making it possible to attract industries and create new ones in the area of energy and to support the creation of new jobs in this sector. Local and regional authorities could be the first beneficiaries of these positive outcomes;

24.

stresses the importance of integrating sources for producing renewable energy from regional and local networks into trans-European energy networks, which will enable the latter to benefit from transport and distribution capacities and thus to develop;

25.

in particular, calls for the necessary changes to the infrastructure to enable smart intergrids so that small and medium sized businesses and cooperatives can generate their own green energy and share it peer-to-peer across regions; calls on the European Commission to convene a special conference with local and regional authorities and relevant stakeholders to kick-start the transformation of Europe's energy production;

26.

considers there is a need to highlight the opportunities for technological innovation and development provided in this strategy as regards the leadership and competitiveness of European businesses in the equipment sector (especially in the field of electricity, such as the production of renewable energy, high-efficiency smart networks, new systems for storing electricity and the enhancement of electric vehicles), and calls for the European strategy on energy technology and the R&D framework programmes in this field to be strengthened;

27.

notes that, without more efficient, smarter network infrastructure, no improvement can be expected in consumer prices, innovation and security of energy supplies, especially in those regions which are economically less advantageous for businesses, such as outlying regions, sparsely populated areas or those which are weaker economically;

28.

reiterates that centralised energy production in large-scale power-generating installations remains important to the functioning of the European internal energy market; it must, however, be substantially boosted by decentralised energy installations and smart control and transport systems. Consequently, the Committee of the Regions stresses that cities and regions should be encouraged more strongly to develop systems and technologies for decentralised energy production, as this also mitigates against monopolies developing in the energy sector and can help secure greater involvement of the grassroots public, which in turn boosts acceptance of more sustainable energy management;

29.

stresses that decentralisation of energy production towards small centres of production in environmentally compatible areas at local and regional level will be an effective way – for cities and regions – of developing non-polluting renewable energies and thus protecting the environment and tackling climate change;

30.

adds that development of decentralised production sources will also enable the European Union as a whole to free itself gradually from its external energy dependency and thus to strengthen its security of supply;

31.

urges that it be involved in developing the methodology for establishing specific projects of European interest as well as the necessary means for implementing these priorities in a way that is flexible and adapted to specific local and regional circumstances as regards market conditions and the technological options available;

32.

supports the establishment of specialised platforms at macro-regional level with a view to facilitating implementation of the priorities identified. These platforms should be involved from the very beginning of the project and should participate in every stage of implementation, including the development and budgeting of funding plans;

33.

in that connection explicitly welcomes the Offshore Grid Initiative launched by the EU North Sea countries and Norway to better coordinate the development of offshore wind energy and infrastructure in the northern seas, since wind energy will play a crucial role in achieving the EU's energy and climate objectives;

34.

calls for the role of regional energy initiatives to be strengthened significantly by making specialised bodies responsible for technical and financial planning and for evaluating the impact of these projects. The implementation of ad hoc regional structures is also highly desirable provided that they have at their disposal efficient and effective working methods and decision-making mechanisms;

35.

welcomes the very encouraging outcomes of the creation of high-level groups in this area of interregional and international cooperation. However, the Committee of the Regions is very anxious to ensure that the voice of smaller local and regional authorities can be clearly heard in this type of configuration;

36.

concurs with the Commission in lamenting the current slow pace of procedures for granting energy infrastructure permits and calls for them to be streamlined, better coordinated and improved. However, it would be unacceptable to see local and regional authorities – which have primary responsibility for and bear the brunt of the impact that certain energy projects could have on populations – excluded from this allocation process;

37.

welcomes the proposal to create a contact point in the form of a one-stop-shop, a kind of interface between the promoters and the relevant competent authorities at national, regional and/or local level. The Committee of the Regions stresses the fact that the competences acquired by local and regional authorities should not be adversely affected;

38.

calls for the adoption of adequate maximum periods for granting permits, so as to provide a complete and appropriate evaluation of projects to ensure the participation of stakeholders while at the same time facilitating infrastructure planning and development;

39.

reiterates its desire to see citizens involved in the decision-making process from the very beginning of a project. This participation should be clear, open and specific, with all the necessary transparency to ensure public support for a common project. The timetable itself should be publicised as widely as possible so that everyone can have their voice heard and obtain answers to their questions;

40.

wishes to play an active role in drawing up guidelines designed to improve the transparency and predictability of this process of granting permits. The aim is to ensure that these guidelines satisfy the objectives on publicising the positive and negative effects of projects, transparency, consideration of opinions issued, follow-up of projects and monitoring of public opinion;

41.

calls for special attention to be paid to informing the public about the advantages of developing infrastructure and smart networks for consumers and citizens, in terms of security of supply, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency. However, this information should be balanced, while not concealing the disadvantages to be encountered by the population. Only comprehensive and transparent information will help people understand the scale of the challenge and accept more readily the negative effects. This information should also be adapted to each specific situation, providing everyone with precise and relevant information;

42.

calls for the establishment of effective, accessible and fair systems for compensating the people who will be particularly affected by the adverse impact of projects. This compensation should be sufficient to enable local and regional authorities to offset this impact and to ensure, if not support, then at least acceptance by the public;

43.

supports the idea of creating advantages and incentives for regions which facilitate rapid authorisation of projects of European interest, as long as they are not encouraged to bypass the necessary precautionary rules, such as impact evaluation and public consultation. The Committee of the Regions also calls for these incentives to be extended to local authorities;

44.

shares the Commission's view that it would be very worthwhile to extend this system of incentives to any project initiated at local and regional level concerning production of renewable energies but also their transport and distribution;

45.

would like to be involved in the creation of a project support tool to help regions and national authorities with infrastructure planning and project development. In this connection, it will be vital to take account of the environmental and also socio-economic impact of projects at regional and local level;

46.

is concerned that, of a total budget of EUR 200 bn of investment estimated by the European Commission, there remains a deficit of more than 60 billion;

47.

strongly backs the use of private investment by adopting rules to settle the question of sharing the costs of major projects which are technologically complex or of a cross-border nature. Several macro-regional projects currently at risk as a result of a funding gap could benefit directly from these new legislative rules;

48.

supports the Commission initiative to optimise the leverage effects of public and private sources by mitigating the risks for investors. Optimum benefits, security of investments and the positive impact on society will lead local and regional authorities to invest in the projects most suited to them;

49.

laments the lack of precise and concrete information on budgets and financial frameworks which could be provided for this incentive. The Committee of the Regions calls for the financial mechanisms under consideration to meet the criteria of flexibility, adapting to the various types of current risk, and taking account of the specific financial needs of each project;

50.

urges in particular that the Commission consider ways in which the various stakeholders, including local and regional authorities, could participate financially in the development of energy infrastructure. This would, first and foremost, act as catalyst for the launch and development of the projects concerned. In addition, the prospect of the financial benefits generated by future use of infrastructure could unify public opinion around the project;

51.

calls for priority to be given to investment in any project which helps to achieve the 20-20-20 goals, such as development of smart networks, inclusion of renewable energies in the European supergrid, and linking up all outlying regions to the supergrid and interconnections;

52.

highlights the significant role of smart networks in promoting individual responsibility for energy consumption. Smart networks, smart electricity meters and corresponding consumption appliances capable of providing not only energy but also information concerning the level and type of consumption can offer energy-saving potential. They could thus help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency. For that reason, action is needed to foster the further development and introduction of technologies of this kind. Supported by national plans and European programmes, there is a need for local and regional authorities to carry out pilot projects on smart networks before 2020, focusing on projects involving border regions;

53.

calls for the priorities concerning financing and support for projects to modernise energy infrastructure to be based on the following criteria: development of production and distribution of local, renewable energies, completion of the single market in electricity and natural gas, and support for consumers by helping them to participate more effectively in the market. The latter can be achieved not only by making their consumption more efficient but also by enabling them to develop as local or even individual producers and to sell any surplus produced. With a view to achieving the 20-20-20 targets it is also important to try and improve efficiency by replacing and upgrading existing networks, thus reducing conversion and transformation losses;

54.

calls for support to be given to developing self-supply systems based on renewable sources of energy and high-efficiency cogeneration, by ensuring that energy networks are designed to prioritise self-supply systems.

Brussels, 1 July 2011.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Mercedes BRESSO