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EU unveils plans to boost 'clean energy' use
Brussels (AFP) Nov 30, 2016

The EU on Wednesday unveiled "clean energy" plans to boost renewables, cut waste and reduce subsidies for coal power in a bid to meet commitments under the Paris climate deal.

Binding energy efficiency targets would also be raised by 30 percent by 2030 under the sweeping package of measures from the European Commission, the European Union's executive arm.

But environmental groups criticised the 28-nation EU for doing too little to end subsidies for carbon-spewing coal power plants and said investments in renewables had been undermined.

"We will help Europe turn the Paris agreement into concrete action," EU climate commissioner Miguel Canete told reporters in Brussels.

Under the Paris climate deal struck almost a year ago, the EU plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030, compared against 1990 levels and make renewable energy account for 27 percent of energy use.

In 2030, the EU aims to have half of the bloc's electricity come from renewables such as wind and solar power. By 2050, it hopes electricity will be carbon free.

The package calls for making renewable energy increasingly market-based under a regulatory framework.

"Our proposals will boost trading across borders, create a level playing field for renewables, and remove barriers for new actors in the market, and ensuring certainty for investors," Canete said.

The renewables plan also aims to promote more jobs in a sector that already employs more than one million people, while reversing an economic trend -- investment in renewables has dropped by half since 2011.

- 'High-polluting fossil fuels' -

But Greenpeace faulted the commission for proposing to scrap a rule requiring power grids to receive available energy from renewables before energy from coal and nuclear plants.

Renewables will actually be used less "because it is easier to turn off wind or solar power than coal and nuclear plants," the group said.

The 1,000-pages of measures -- which still need to be approved by EU nations and the European Parliament -- aims to overhaul the energy market and ensure the shift to clean energy.

The commission is calling for reducing so-called capacity mechanisms, which are seen as government subsidies used to help power companies avoid electricity blackouts.

But Canete said: "Capacity mechanisms will not be used as a backdoor subsidy of high-polluting fossil fuels. That would go against our climate objectives."

He said this means the EU has set a limit of 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour for new plants while giving time for existing capacity mechanisms to adapt to the new rules.

Greenpeace however said at least 95 per cent of coal power plants would be eligible to receive capacity payments until 2026.

Christian Schaible of the activist European Environmental Bureau called the proposed cap "a bad joke" as he agreed it would affect few, if any existing coal power plants.

The commission is also proposing a binding 30 percent energy efficiency target for 2030, up from the current target of at least 27 percent. This calls for equipping buildings with new energy saving technology.

The European Parliament had called for a more ambitious target of 40 percent, with support from industrial heavyweights like Philips, Schneider Electric, Siemens and Veolia.

However, the European employers association BusinessEurope opposed the 30-percent goal as a further blow to the EU's carbon market -- the emissions trading system -- which has been hit by falling prices.

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