Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Energy efficiency and renewable energy to get EUR 75bn ERDF cash

ERDF funded project in Sheffield to make low-income homes more energy efficient
Energy efficiency and renewable energy are set to be one of the 11 investment priorities under a new EUR 346 billion European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) budget for 2014-2020 being discussed in Brussels this week.

They constitute two areas that have been neglected during the current 2007-2013 budget period.

The European Commission's ERDF budget proposals, which were presented by the European Commission last Thursday foresee a total budget of EUR 376 billion (one percent of Europe Gross National income) for economic, social and territorial cohesion for the period 2014-2020.

The ERDF is a vital part of funding many infrastructure projects and aims to correct imbalances between regions. It supports R&D and innovation in climate change and environment, business support to SMEs, energy and transport infrastructures and sustainable urban development amongst other things.

Amongst the 11 investment priorities defined, one aims to support the shift towards a low-carbon economy in all sectors, including energy efficiency in public infrastructures and the housing sector.

From 2014, the so-called 'transition regions' of Europe (in the UK this includes Merseyside and South Yorkshire) and the more developed regions will be required to focus the largest part of their allocation (except for the European Social Fund) on energy efficiency and renewable energy, competitiveness of SMEs, and innovation, with 20% of resources to be focused on energy efficiency and renewables.

This equates to EUR 75.2bn for these territories, although in the less developed regions this percentage drops to 6% or EUR 22.56bn.

For the first time, urban policy is acknowledged and endowed with significant financial resources under the budget.

The budget is being debated by regional presidents and mayors (the 'Committee of the Regions') Tuesday and Wednesday at a special conference in Brussels.

The budget includes EUR 50 billion for a 'Connecting Europe Facility' for transport, energy and information and communication technologies (ICT) infrastructure.

There will be an increased focus on sustainable urban development through the earmarking of a minimum of 5% of ERDF resources for sustainable urban development, the establishment of an urban development platform to promote capacity building and exchange of experience, and the adoption of a list of cities where integrated actions for sustainable urban development will be implemented.

Energy Cities, a European Association of local authorities in over 1,000 towns and cities in 30 countries, has campaigned for these developments, and is celebrating their success.

However, in a policy statement they argue that "the Commission’s proposals can still be improved", for instance, by making EU-funding eligibility conditional on "the existence of a local Sustainable Energy Action Plan geared towards the “3x20” objectives".

This is a reference to the three EU aims of reducing EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% below 1990 levels, getting 20% of EU energy consumption from renewable resources, and reducing primary energy use by 20%, all by 2020.

They also call for "the continuation and refinement of the Intelligent Energy-Europe Programme (IEE)", which supports building efficiency, smart grids and sustainable energy.

The plans will be debated by Committee of the Regions members and EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski on Tuesday evening, focussing in particular whether they are in line with the investment needs and industrial policies of regions and cities.

On Wednesday, for the first time in history, a minister from one of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries, Kamal Nath, Indian Minister for Urban Development, will present to the conference the challenges that India is facing on the road to sustainable urban development as part of the 5th EuroIndia Summit on 'Smart, Sustainable and Innovative Cities'.

The Covenant of Mayors is also putting pressure on the European Parliament to take the proposals further by making sure their sustainability aspects become 'embedded' in all Community investments.

The budget was discussed Monday at an Covenant of Mayors Open Day event, and at a webinar on Wednesday (interested participants can sign up by emailing dion.wierts@eumayors.eu), and the topic will be on the agenda at the 3rd Covenant of Mayors’ Ceremony to be held on 29 November at the European Parliament in Brussels.

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