Mar 30, 2023
EU Agrees Nuclear Has Role in Meeting Ambitious Climate Goal
(Bloomberg) -- European Union negotiators reached a deal on scaling up renewable energy this decade, and provided a small role for nuclear in one of the last pillars of the bloc’s landmark green plan.
The European Parliament and the bloc’s 27 member states agreed to raise the 2030 renewable target to 42.5% of total energy consumption from 32% after negotiating through the night. That fell short of the 45% proposed by the European Commission, but the two sides agreed a further 2.5% would be “aspirational.”
The role of nuclear power proved to be the major issue going into the final round of talks, with France making a last-minute push to gain some recognition for a technology it sees as almost on par with wind and solar. The country won a few concessions, allowing its key atomic sector to potentially play a role in producing the hydrogen needed to decarbonize heavy industry.
“We are at the Commission agnostic as far as nuclear is concerned,” the EU’s climate chief Frans Timmermans said at an event in Brussels Thursday. “I would urge everyone not to have a ideological debate. Let’s just do the numbers, calculate what it costs.”
The deal, seen by Bloomberg, allows for countries like France and Sweden to reduce their green hydrogen targets for industries by a fifth by 2030 if they mainly use nuclear power — rather than fossil fuels — for producing the rest of their hydrogen and stay on track to meet their overall renewable goals.
The agreement, which still needs to be officially ratified by both sides, means the EU has successfully put in place the final elements of its green deal proposals. They range from an overhaul of the carbon market to decarbonizing the transport sector and boosting natural carbon sinks.
The question now is whether the countries led by France that were pushing for nuclear are happy with the compromise. Some worry that Germany set a dangerous precedent for approval of parts of the green deal by delaying its consent for an effective ban on new combustion engine cars earlier this month as it pursued last-minute assurances on e-fuels.
Markus Pieper, the center-right lawmaker overseeing negotiations for the parliament, said that only Sweden would qualify under the approved rules for nuclear.
“The role of nuclear is enshrined,” said Agnes Pannier-Runacher, France’s minister for the energy transition. “The caveat is what does the text actually say?”
There’s also some concern over whether the EU can meet the increased goals for renewables. WindEurope, an industry group, said that investment in the sector last year was less than half the amount it was in 2021, and the least since 2009.
Another area of controversy was what kinds of biomass should be allowed to contribute to the renewables target. Scandinavian and Baltic countries pushed for burning of trees to qualify for subsidies. In the end, negotiators agreed to restrict support depending on the quality of the wood, but with a large number of exemptions.
Read more: EU Talks to Speed Up Renewables Hamstrung by Fight Over Trees
The higher clean-power target “could end up being a Trojan horse if it’s not achieved by wind and solar but by burning more primary woody biomass,” WWF Europe said in a statement.
Regulation on boosting the energy efficiency of buildings, and low-carbon gases and cutting methane emissions still need to be approved.
--With assistance from Ania Nussbaum and Maria Tadeo.
(Updates with Timmermans comment in the fourth paragraph, details from the seventh.)
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