* Politicians back immediate talks with council of ministers
* Efficiency still could be a divisive issue
* Denmark has set energy saving as presidential priority
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Members of the European Parliament backed a set of energy saving proposals on Tuesday, clearing the way for a possible deal by the end of June on a law that could boost jobs, household incomes and cut fuel import bills.
Denmark, holder of the EU presidency, has set as a priority for its six months in office achieving political agreement to improve energy efficiency through measures such as building renovation.
The parliament’s industry committee backed a resolution on energy saving proposals by 51 for, 6 against and 3 abstentions. It also voted in favour of immediate talks with the Council of EU ministers, avoiding time-consuming extra parliamentary sessions.
Advocates of energy efficiency say it is an obvious, environmentally-friendly spur to growth.
But ministerial debate could be difficult and the business lobby and major energy firms have objected to what they consider prescriptive measures.
The intensity of feeling surrounding the issue was reflected in some 1,800 amendments, which months of parliamentary debate reduced to 18 compromise proposals, 17 of which were voted through on Tuesday.
“It is a very, very, very good text,” Claude Turmes, vice president of the Greens group, who is steering the energy efficiency draft through parliament, told reporters. “This is the single biggest victory I have had in this parliament.”
Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has repeatedly told EU ministers of the need to deliver a promised 20 percent improvement in energy saving by 2020.
The bloc is only expected to make it half-way to meeting the 20 percent target, unless it implements changes covered by the new draft law.
“This is an important vote for our proposal, as the committee backs our choice of main drivers for saving energy,” Oettinger said in a statement.
“With the text voted today, we would be able to achieve the main goal of the directive - namely to save 20 percent of energy in 2020.”
A central article, number 6, of the highly complex draft law focuses on a target requiring energy firms to achieve annual energy savings equal to 1.5 percent of their sales.
Some member states have raised the idea of measures such as “early accounting”, which would allow previous action to qualify towards savings. Environmental groups and Green politicians say that would be cheating and all savings must be genuinely new.
“Our text is clear on article 6. It does not have loopholes. It’s a very sober, proper article, which will drive investments into energy savings,” Turmes said.
Among the compromises hammered out to ensure broad political support on Tuesday was the easing of a Commission proposal to renovate 3 percent of the floor area of public buildings.
In Tuesday’s compromises, the 3 percent dropped to 2.5 percent, but other requirements were introduced, including “deep renovation”, which amounts to 75 percent of energy reduction in a building.
The one compromise that did not get support covered procurement, which would include buying building equipment or other supplies.
A 20 percent improvement in efficiency was one of a set of three 2020 targets set in March 2007.
It is the only non-binding target of the three and the one that requires further law to try to ensure it is achieved.
More energy savings could knock down an already depressed carbon market, so one of the proposals called on the Commission to tackle a huge surplus of permits weighing on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
Representing the business community, lobby group BUSINESSEUROPE said it was important the Commission analyse the longer term problems of the ETS, but said parliament had gone too far in calling on the Commission to withhold “the necessary amount” of carbon allowances.
“We need a flexible not a bureaucratic directive, and above all one which does not confuse energy efficiency with prescriptions on cutting energy consumption,” BUSINESSEUROPE’s Director General Philippe de Buck said.
Environmental campaigners welcomed Tuesday’s vote.
Brook Riley, energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said the parliamentarians “could have gone further”, but that it was a good result.
He cited Commission figures that meeting the EU’s 20 percent efficiency target for 2020 would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 740 million tonnes, create up to 2 million new jobs, cut dependence on energy imports and save more than 1,000 euros ($1,300) per year per household.
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