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Energy Efficiency in Rural Areas: Call for Action

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On 28 February 2012, members of the ITRE Committee will vote on the Parliament’s report on Energy Efficiency Directive proposal. While discussions have so far concentrated on issues such as building renovation targets or the proposed energy efficiency obligation scheme, the FREE initiative (Future of Rural Energy in Europe) wants to raise MEPs’ attention on one very simple fact: energy efficiency in rural areas is in a critical state and needs to be addressed. Rural households and small businesses face several disadvantages with regards to their energy use, particularly due to the nature of the building stock. Rural buildings are significantly older (in France, half of them predate 1950) and their renovation is more costly for their owners. When it comes to insulation for example, individual rural homes cannot benefit from the same benefits of scale that urban homes with multiple tenants may have. This situation, which applies to all Member States in various degrees, leads to higher fuel costs in rural areas, where the income per inhabitant is 21% to 62% lower. The Commission proposal unfortunately fails to take these challenges into consideration. To date, it has concentrated its efforts on cities, on the basis of their demographic importance and their contribution to half of greenhouse gas emissions. While FREE understands the Commission’s logic, its members would like to rebalance the focus of EU-driven initiatives towards rural areas. For Member States, the benefits in terms of job creation at local level and CO₂ emissions reductions would be very significant. The impact on the lifestyles of rural communities could be even bigger. FREE believes that equal access to energy efficiency should be guaranteed to all citizens, wherever they are located. Rural and remote areas also present ideal conditions for the deployment of efficient forms of decentralised energy production in order to reduce energy losses along the grid. Through a combination of binding measures and policy recommendations, the EU has a role to play in providing the right framework for the deployment of clean and efficient technologies for end-users. For this to happen, some adjustments should be made to the proposal. For example, as part of Article 6, energy efficiency measures applied in predominantly rural areas (as defined by the OECD) could count double towards the achievement of the 1.5% annual energy saving target. This would encourage obligated parties to intensify their efforts in rural areas. Member States should remain free to designate obligated parties or take measures with an equivalent impact for rural areas. FREE would also welcome EU Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund to be specifically directed at energy efficiency projects in rural areas. It is in these regions that allocated funds would deliver the highest energy savings. FREE therefore supports compromise amendment 2 on Article 2a. FREE would have welcomed a stronger focus on rural areas in compromise amendment 5 on Article 4 and hopes that the reference to a “plan on climate, low energy cities or regions” will not just benefit urban locations. As part of the technology portfolio, Micro-CHP could also be specifically encouraged, in light of its benefits for rural and remote areas. A relevant policy framework should be set at EU level (Article 10) to encourage its roll-out in Member States where it is most appropriate (Northern Europe in particular). If MEPs share this view, they should support compromise amendment 11 on Article 10. The much awaited roll-out of ‘smart grids’ and ‘smart meters’ should also allow rural inhabitants to sell back to the grid the extra power produced at micro-level by renewable energy installations or highly-efficient technologies such as Micro-CHP. This is a concrete way of empowering rural energy users and is made possible through simplified authorisation procedures provided by compromise amendment 12 on Article 12. The new Energy Efficiency Directive provides an opportunity to put an end to the disadvantages faced by rural inhabitants when it comes to energy use. It would be a shame to miss it. The Future of Rural Energy in Europe (FREE) initiative gives a voice to all those who believe that rural energy needs are important issues both for those who live in the countryside and for European society as a whole. FREE aims to raise awareness on the importance of rural areas, their relatively disadvantaged energy position and the decisive role they can play in helping European governments achieve their energy & climate change policy objectives. FREE is therefore engaged in a dialogue with policymakers to achieve a low-carbon, efficient and competitive provision of energy in rural areas. This involves an active participation in discussions regarding the future of energy, rural development and regional policies in the EU and in Member States. The FREE initiative is supported by a range of organisations, united in their commitment to improving the lot and maximising the potential of rural communities. Contact FREE Secretariat: e-mail: rural-energy@fleishman.com, telephone: 02 282 09 76 Follow the discussion on the Energy Efficiency Directive on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=4093070&trk=hb_side_g

Energy Efficiency in Rural Areas: Call for Action