MEPs approve renewable energy, biofuel targets under RED II

By Erin Voegele | January 17, 2018

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) endorsed a set of proposals Jan. 17 that establish new goals for renewable energy, energy efficiency and renewable transportation fuels. The proposals would also cap first-generation biofuels and phase-out the use of palm oil. Together, the proposals are referred to as the post-2020 EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED II).

The proposals set binding EU-level targets of a 35 percent improvement in energy efficiency, a minimum 35 percent share of energy from renewable sources in gross final consumption of energy, and a 12 percent share of energy from renewable resources in transport by 2030. To meet the overall targets, EU member states are asked to set their own national targets, to be monitored and achieved in line with draft law on the governance of the Energy Union.

A press release issued by the European Parliament explain the renewable energy target was adopted by a vote of 492 to 88, with 107 abstentions. Under the proposal, national targets that are set for each member state would be allowed to deviate by up to 10 percent under certain conditions.

Regarding biomass, the MEPs indicated they want renewable energy support schemes to be designed to avoid encouraging the unsustainable use of biomass for energy production if there are better industrial or materials uses. For energy generation, they said priority should be given to burning wood wastes and residues.

Under the proposal for renewables in transportation, member states must ensure that 12 percent of the energy consumed in transport comes from renewable sources. The contribution of first-generation biofuels is to be capped at 2017 levels, with a maximum of 7 percent in road and rail transport. The MEPs also voted to ban the use of palm oil in 2021. The share of advanced biofuels, renewable transport fuels of non-biological origin, waste-based fossil fuels and renewable electricity must be at least 1.5 percent in 2021, increasing to 10 percent in 2030.

The proposals also include provisions related to energy efficiency, electric vehicle charging stations, and consumer-generated power and energy communities. In addition, each member state is to submit an integrated national energy and climate plan to the EU Commission by Jan. 1, 2019, and each 10 years thereafter. The first plan is to cover the years 2021-2030. The commission will assess the plans and make recommendations or take remedial measures if it determines insufficient progress has been made or insufficient actions have been taken.

ePURE, the European renewable ethanol association, called the European Parliament’s vote to phase out palm oil and allow some crop-based biofuels a welcome recognition that the EU needs all the sustainable tools it can get in the fight against climate change.

ePURE also called on the EU to do more, stressing a need for a renewable energy policy that looks beyond labels like “conventional” or “advanced” and instead considers the real sustainability credentials of biofuels. European ethanol, ePure said, is produced from European crops and delivers an average greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction of 66 percent when compared to fossil gasoline, with no adverse effects. The group also noted that the production of ethanol helps offset the need to import high-protein animal feed.

“Europeans deserve a climate policy that lives up to the promises made by politicians,” said Emmanuel Desplechin, secretary general of ePURE. “The Parliament has sent a message that not all biofuels are created equal by focusing on getting rid of those that drive deforestation like palm oil. But its amendments still risk making it harder for EU Member States to realistically boost renewables in transport.”

“As the main EU institutions begin negotiations on renewables policy for the post-2020 period, the EU must remain committed to a meaningful binding target for renewables in transport—one that does not rely on artificial multipliers to create the illusion of better performance and make it easier for countries to meet their targets,” Desplechin said. “It should also keep in place the maximum contribution of crop-based biofuels at 7 percent—essential for safeguarding current and future investments. And it needs a strong commitment to ramping up advanced biofuels.”

“The EU can still make this legislation work,” he continued. “By empowering Member States to use homegrown solutions for renewable energy, Europe can truly deliver on its Paris commitments.”       

Novozymes called cap on conventional biofuels a missed opportunity. “The compromise caps all conventional biofuels at existing consumption levels, failing to differentiate most sustainable ones such as ethanol,” said Thomas Schrøder, vice president, Biorefining Commercial at Novozymes. “This is a missed opportunity in the fight against climate change.”

Schrøder also stressed that the 12 percent target should be met in full without using artificial counting mechanisms. In addition, he called Parliament’s decision to establish specific blending obligations for advanced biofuels a positive move.

“The negotiations with the Council can now start,” Schrøder added. “In this process, it will be important to make the most out of the two positions and to ensure that all sustainable solutions can contribute effectively to transport decarbonization in Europe.”

The European Biomass Association (AEBIOM) said that the parliament’s risk assessment approach to biomass sustainability will ensure that wood biomass contributes to carbon dioxide emissions savings and originates from sustainably managed forests.

“This approach will allow solid biomass to keep playing a key role in the European energy transition while providing coherent and realistic sustainability safeguards,” said Jean-Marc Jossart, secretary general of AEBIOM. “Regardless, the bioenergy sector will have to remain cautious in trilogue on critical attempts such as cascading principle.”  

According to AEBIOM, the approach taken by the European Parliament is generally coherent with the Council’s and Commission's position. The organization said it has good hopes that a smooth and coherent trilogue process will take place on this specific bioenergy sustainability file.

Drax has also weighed in on the parliament’s action. “Biomass is playing a vital role in decarbonizing our electricity system, providing sustainable, reliable low carbon power for millions of homes and businesses,” said Will Gardiner, chief executive of Drax Group. “We are pleased the EU Parliament has recognized the important part biomass plays and we look forward to the next stage of the legislative process and further progress on the introduction of robust, workable sustainability criteria.”