Morten Helveg Petersen: No more broken promises

Written by The Parliament Magazine on 8 February 2019 in Interviews
Interviews

Vice chair of Parliament’s committee on industry, research and energy, Morten Helveg Petersen says Europe can do more to meet its green energy goals, and what’s more, the tools are already at our disposal.

Photo Credit: Giancarlo Rocconi


How successful has the Commission been in rolling out the Energy Union package and what further reforms should be considered in the coming years?

Europeans deserve an EU that delivers on climate change. With the Clean Energy Package, we’re taking significant steps, raising the EU’s level of ambition on renewable energy and energy efficiency. We are opening up the electricity market, so that green energy produced in one country can benefit consumers in another.

In addition, we’re enhancing regulatory oversight to reduce energy protectionism in the EU - crucial for increasing the share of renewable energy. We are doing this by strengthening ACER, the European agency responsible for monitoring energy trading and resolving disputes between energy regulators.

We are providing ACER with new tools and more resources it needs as the cross-border energy flows increase. This ensures that the energy market serves citizens, who benefit from cheaper and greener energy. However, we can and should do much more; we need to fight what I call ‘Green Amnesia’.


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Governments make green promises in Paris when signing grand climate agreements; but when they arrive in Brussels to negotiate the legislation, they seem to forget their commitments. Green Amnesia is a dangerous, contagious disease and one of major obstacles in the fight against climate change. In addressing the crisis of climate change, we need commitment; small steps are no longer sufficient.

Given the rapidly falling costs of renewable energy, there is no longer any economic argument to justify the lack of climate action. We need to reduce our imports of oil, gas and coal and accelerate the rollout of everything electricity to minimise our reliance on Russia.

Therefore, I suggest enhancing the EU’s climate action and connecting the Clean Energy Package to the Multiannual Financial Framework, the EU’s long-term budget framework. We need to introduce climate conditionality; should a Member State fail to deliver on their agreed renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, the Commission should ultimately withhold funds.

The Governance Regulation - the compliance framework for the Clean Energy Package - already determines that the Commission ascertain, every two years, whether Member States are reaching the agreed milestones and sub-targets. We must enhance our efforts and create real consequences for those Member States failing to comply with their own laws.

This is not a punishment; it is a necessary step in fighting climate change. I realise that this is controversial; however, I sincerely believe that governments need to put climate action at the top of their agenda. The Clean Energy Package negotiations have already seen too much Green Amnesia; this cannot happen again, particularly when looking ahead to the upcoming legislation on gas, an essential piece of the climate puzzle.

"The Clean Energy Package negotiations have already seen too much Green Amnesia; this cannot happen again, particularly when looking ahead to the upcoming legislation on gas, an essential piece of the climate puzzle"

My aim is to make our gas supply as green as possible by making biogas an important part of Europe’s gas supply. Ultimately, our goal is saving our planet and providing our citizens with clean energy.

 

The clean air report is waiting to be Voted through plenary; do you believe it goes far enough to protect air Quality for European citizens, and what more would you add?

Air pollution is a serious issue requiring urgent measures. Annually, 400,000 Europeans die prematurely because of air pollution. That is more than ten times the number of deaths from traffic-related accidents. We know that we need to do more to ensure both industry and transport address these problems. I want to go a step further and push for and encourage higher ambitions.

 

You are rapporteur on the ACER report on harmonising energy regulations across Europe; why is this important and what are the key challenges?

Since this mandate began in 2014, the costs of wind and solar energy have fallen dramatically. As a result, renewables are now fully competitive with fossil fuels and we can see a path to 100 percent renewable power supply in Europe. However, this scenario is impossible without an internal market for electricity. It is akin to attempting a transition to e-mobility without having free movement of cars; each Member State would have to produce their own vehicles.

The problem with renewables is similar; if we cannot trade electricity across borders, we will never make a full transition into renewables, as each Member State would have to make their own huge infrastructure investments rather than buying cheap excess energy from their neighbours.

The ACER regulation enhances regulatory oversight, preventing national authorities from blocking electricity from other Member States. This will benefit the rollout of renewable energy in Europe and thereby our climate action eff orts. When the wind blows in the North Sea, we need to be able to transport cheap, green energy from the off shore wind parks to consumers on the continent.

 

How well-prepared is Europe’s energy infrastructure for dealing with any possible crises or risks?

This is already a serious concern for Europe in the short term. This is why the Risk Preparedness Regulation was included as part of the Clean Energy Package, to reduce the risk of outages and improve cooperation between authorities, not least in case of emergency.

A broad majority in Parliament approved the compromise with the Commission and Council. This is crucial, as more extreme weather conditions challenge Europe’s energy infrastructure.

"Renewables are now fully competitive with fossil fuels and we can see a path to 100 percent renewable power supply in Europe. However, this scenario is impossible without an internal market for electricity"

 

Does nuclear energy still have a role in Helping Europe cut carbon emissions, given that green energy sources cannot guarantee round-the-clock energy?

Several Member States face this dilemma right now; although it is for each Member State to decide on their energy mix while respecting the agreements on CO2 reductions, share of renewables, etc. Germany and Belgium are seeking to phase out nuclear while also reducing CO2 emissions. That said, I think that there is still much we can do to address the demand side.

Energy efficiency improvements can fundamentally alter the energy equation: currently, heating and cooling constitute 50 percent of our energy consumption. If we improve our energy efficiency, rolling out insulation, thermostats and district heating across the continent, we can significantly reduce our need for nuclear power.

In addition, the business model of energy supply is changing; as renewables become cheaper, storage improves and the market opens to trading, the old, centralised production approach becomes less attractive for investors. Europe should grasp this opportunity; we know that demand globally will increase significantly - it is a chance to lead the way in the industries of tomorrow.

We have the technical know-how when it comes to both energy production and transport. Instead of allowing China to get there first, we should be pursuing our own ambitions, ultimately benefitting our businesses on a global scale. We see how China is pushing for more solar panels and a transition to e-mobility. We need to do the same by investing in our grid and technology, including energy storage.

 

US President Donald Trump complained that Germany was buying too much gas from Russia. Has the EU done enough to achieve energy security, and if not, what more needs to be done?

The short answer is no, Europe has not done enough to reduce imports from Russia. On the contrary; we have imposed historically strict sanctions with one hand and purchased massive amounts of fossil fuels with the other.

Considering Russia’s economic reliance on energy exports, the most effective sanctions would be to reduce, and ultimately phase out, imports of Russian energy. At the least, we should not increase our energy imports via Nord Stream II. The good news is that we already have the tools we need. The recent 2050-climate strategy from the Commission points to at least three effective measures.

First, increase the use of renewables in heating, transport and industrial processes. Second, reduce primary energy demand through energy efficiency and electrification. Third, where gas is still needed, encourage the switch from natural gas to hydrogen and synthetic gases. I hope and believe that these measures will be developed more in the coming legislature. They are urgently needed if we are to deliver on the climate change promises that we made.

 

If the UK leaves the EU with a ‘no deal’, How will this affect both Europe and the UK from an energy market perspective?

I hope and trust that the energy market will not be severely affected in the short term. Both the EU and the UK have an interest in open and accessible energy markets across the English Channel and the North Sea. However, in the medium to long term, rules will inevitably diverge and then we could face problems.

What will happen when the EU adopts revised network codes? What will happen when the new electricity market design comes into force in the EU or when the EU adopts a new gas market package in the next legislature? I cannot envisage other options than a “Norway model”, if UK wants to remain part of the internal energy market in the long term.

"As pro-Europeans, we need to take back the EU critique from the populists"

 

What are your key political priorities in the upcoming European elections, and How can pro-EU parties counter the message of populist right wing parties?

Brexit, in its chaos and turmoil, has played an important role in increasing the support for the EU - as have Presidents Trump and Putin. People recognise that we are better off together and that the challenges of climate change, migration and security are shared.

As pro-Europeans, we need to take back the EU critique from the populists. I do not know of one single person that loves and defends every part of the union as it is today. We have done too little, too late, on many crucial issues; the status quo is no longer an option. That is why I am happy to be part of a pan-European reformist movement, which includes not only my colleagues in ALDE but also En Marche.

Populists have been thriving for too many years because the pro-Europeans have been afraid to vocalise any form of EU critique. In reality, they have grown by pointing fingers and shouting; they have offered no constructive input or solutions whatsoever. We need to show Europe’s citizens that we have heard and understood Brexit.

People expect - rightly - the union to solve the big challenges; we need to deliver long-term solutions. We also need to stand fi rm on our values and show Member States like Hungary and Poland that we really mean it. This is arguably the most important election in the history of the union; the future of the union is at stake. Let me tell you, I have no plans to give in to any populists.

This is about heart and soul. Bring it on.

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