Britain fights shy of EU plans for 'green' power

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The Independent Online
THE Government is to oppose a European plan to spend pounds 110bn over the next decade, doubling the amount of energy it gets from renewable power sources like sun, wind and water.

A European Union White Paper, Energy for the Future: Renewable Sources of Energy, is to be discussed by ministers at an Energy Council meeting in May, when a formal resolution could be adopted.

But MPs have now been told that John Battle, the energy minister, will oppose the plan to increase EU energy supplies derived from renewables from 6 per cent to 12 per cent.

Mr Battle has told the Commons European Legislation Committee: "The UK government will show enthusiasm for the [European] Commission's initiative, tempered with a strong dose of realism. Whilst supporting the principle of action to promote renewables, and the adoption of a more strategic approach, the UK will argue against the endorsement of any unrealistic targets and the adoption of measures which would impose disproportionate costs on consumers, industry or the taxpayer."

The minister was unable to say what the UK share of the pounds 110bn would be, but he added, "It is likely to be in the range of pounds 1bn-pounds 3bn per annum."

While most of the investment would come from the private sector, significant public sector support would be expected, and Mr Battle warned: "This would add to existing pressures on the Community budget and UK public expenditure."

But the commission warned that unless the power share coming from renewable sources was increased, it would become increasingly difficult for the EU to comply with its commitments on environmental protection at European and international level.

The Brussels communication on the subject said that the "overwhelmingly positive response received during the consultation process has confirmed the commission's view that an indicative target is a good policy tool, giving a clear political signal and impetus to action."

It described the target of 12 per cent of energy supply from renewables as "ambitious but realistic"; Mr Battle considers his own domestic target - of possibly getting less than 5 per cent of energy from renewables - ambitious enough.

The Prime Minister said in December, at the time of the Kyoto Earth summit: "We need to look at new ways of producing energy. This could involve promoting greater use of solar energy and making more use of renewable sources. This will ensure the UK delivers what it has signed up to, and will help other countries fulfil their commitments."

A government review of new and renewable energy policy, announced last June - is still continuing. It was asked to examine what would be necessary and practical "to provide 10 per cent of the UK's electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010".

But 10 per cent of electricity amounts to less than 5 per cent of all energy supplies, and even if the Government produces a positive result on that target, it would still amount to little more than a third of the new European ambition.