Brussels will sketch out its 2030 green targets next week, and there’s a strong possibility that its renewable energy goals will be more suggestion than mandate. In March, the European Commission will vote on a plan for 2030, and the mood is decidedly less optimistic than it was when targets for 2020 were put in place.The high cost of renewable energy is already driving Europe’s electricity prices up, as the subsidies necessary to give solar and wind energy a solid market share are being paid by industries and consumers alike. For households, these higher electricity costs are a regressive tax, felt most keenly by the continent’s poor, while European businesses are struggling to compete with countries like the United States, where energy comes cheaper. The FT reports:
Europe has looked on in envy as the US shale gas boom has boosted gas production, driven down gas prices and triggered a manufacturing renaissance. Gas prices for industry fell by 66 per cent in the US between 2005 and 2012, while they rose 35 per cent in Europe over the same period, according to the commission.
Higher prices are straining the debate, but there’s a more fundamental disagreement at play here over the value of renewable energy. While Germany chose to start shutting down its nuclear reactors in the wake of the Fukushima disaster as part of its energiewende (a decision that has ultimately led to record coal use and higher emissions), the UK is expanding its nuclear power industry. Nuclear is an excellent option for reducing emissions, but it won’t help the UK meet renewable energy quotas.One solution, being pushed by London, is to make the 2030 renewables requirement non-binding, and instead focus solely on reducing emissions—to focus on the ends, not the means. While Europe squabbles over renewable energy mandates, consider this: the EU’s emissions reductions to this point have largely come courtesy of an anemic economy. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the United States has managed to cut emissions by more than 10 percent since 2005, not by subsidizing expensive, uncompetitive renewables, but by aggressively pursuing domestic reserves of shale gas.