Austria, Finland, Germany object to EU energy law interpretation

Wed Dec 19, 2012 7:50am EST

* Germany backed by 8 member states in meeting -EU source

* Campaigners say legal interpretation crucial

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Austria, Finland and Germany have written to EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger objecting to interpretation of a new EU energy savings law drawn up by Commission officials.

After months of intense debate, the Energy Efficiency Directive was agreed in June to improve the bloc's record on energy savings.

To help member states interpret a central article of the law, intended to achieve annual energy savings of 1.5 percent, Commission energy officials have drawn up a working paper.

"We cannot accept DG Energy's new interpretation," says the letter, seen by Reuters. It is signed by Stefan Kapferer, state secretary in the German economics ministry, Jouni Hakala, state secretary in the Finnish economy ministry, and Christian Schoenbauer, director-general in the Austrian economy ministry.

The three countries say member states that have already started implementing "obligation schemes" ensuring suppliers make consumers use less through measures such as insulation, are being given an unfair advantage over those using other means, such as taxation or preferential loans, to promote energy savings.

"Instead of having to achieve 1.5 percent annual energy savings, these member states (with obligation schemes) would be able to meet their target with around 0.5 percent," said the letter, dated Nov. 28.

One EU source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the interpretive note, would lead to "massive" discrimination against member states, such as Germany, which do not have an obligation scheme but use other measures to bolster efficiency.

The source added the issue had been raised at a meeting of member state officials, when Germany, the most influential EU state, was backed by eight others.

A non-binding goal to increase energy savings by 20 percent of projected levels by 2020 was one of three green EU energy targets set in 2007.

Without the Energy Efficiency Directive, the EU was expected to achieve only about half of the target.

Even with the new law, after months of haggling diluted its force, the bloc will only be on course for roughly 15 percent savings in energy, excluding transport, the Commission has forecast.

Increased savings in transport through more efficient cars, for instance, could deliver another 2 percent.

Campaign groups always said official interpretation of the law would be crucial, after negotiations resulted in opt-outs.

Member states were allowed exemptions, provided they did not amount to cutting the 1.5 percent annual savings by more than a quarter.

In addition, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy and Poland argued for additional credits for those with energy obligation schemes in place. Without those credits, they would have to introduce new measures to cut energy use.

The Coalition for Energy Savings campaign group said that a "flawed interpretation" of the new law's central requirements would mean energy savings by 2020 were only 13.5 percent - rather than an expected 15 percent.

"This (1.5 percentage point gap) compares to the energy consumption of Hungary," Stefan Scheuer, secretary general of the Coalition for Energy Savings, said.

No one from the Commission was available for comment. (Editing by Jason Neely)