* Renewable power had big impact on cutting coal, gas
* Wind, solar expand as prices fall
* Biomass, biofuel give some cause for concern
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Feb 17 (Reuters) - EU nations are on track to meet a target to get one fifth of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, even though Britain, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are lagging behind, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said on Tuesday.
The EEA, which provides analysis to EU policymakers, said energy from sources such as wind and solar had become much cheaper. As a result, alternatives had displaced coal and gas, cut carbon emissions and improved energy security.
Without green energy, coal use would have been 13 percent higher and 7 percent more natural gas would have been consumed in 2013, at a time when EU gas reserves are dwindling, the EEA said in its latest progress report.
Overall, the European Union should meet its 2020 goal of getting 20 percent of energy from renewables.
Some member states are further ahead than others.
In Austria, Finland, Sweden and Latvia, renewable energy made up more than one third of energy consumption in 2013, while at the other extreme, Britain, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands got less than 5 percent from green sources.
However, the EEA predicts the laggards will catch up. Britain in particular has made strides in offshore wind.
Energy choices are sensitive as EU nations insist on their right to decide which fuels they use. Britain is investing in nuclear generation, which is emissions-free, and has sought to limit any national renewable targets for the future.
A compromise agreed in October set a 2030 renewable target of 27 percent, which environmental campaigners said was not a sufficient increase on the 2020 goal.
EU long-term forecasts say the EU needs to increase renewable sources to 55 percent to 75 percent of energy by 2050.
EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx said renewables were becoming “one of Europe’s great success stories”.
“We can go even further: if we support innovation in this area it could become a major motor of Europe’s economy, bringing down emissions while creating jobs,” he said.
But some renewable energy is flawed.
Around 60 percent of the EU’s renewable energy comes from biomass, which is environmentally sound when made from waste, but can result in the clearing of forests to make wood pellets to be burnt instead of coal.
Environment campaigners say U.S. forests are being plundered to make pellets for export to Europe.
They are calling for limits on how much energy can come from biomass along the lines of a cap already being negotiated for biofuels. (Editing by David Evans)