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EU subcommittee debates energy and climate protection (PK0144/02/14/2023) Austrian Parliament

Vienna (PK) – During a debate with the Minister of Environment, Climate and Energy, Leonore Gewessler, the EU subcommittee discussed current departmental issues in the area of ​​environment, energy and climate. MEPs also discussed the planned reform of European energy markets and the energy efficiency of buildings.

Statement requests from the SPÖ and FPÖ remained in the minority. In it, the Social Democrats advocated measures against “existence-threatening” energy prices. The Liberals demanded clarification of the “attacks” on the Nord Stream gas pipelines. In addition, possible energy dependency on the US must be avoided, as well as new joint loans by EU member states as part of the planned sovereignty fund. The federal government must also work against the plans of the “Fit for 55” package and, in particular, prevent the ban on gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Current debate on energy markets and renewable energy expansion

The Minister of the Environment, Leonore Gewessler, explained that it was an extremely intense year in terms of energy policy at European level. With industrial transformation measures and regulation of electricity markets, an equally intense year is ahead. The reliance on Russian gas that has developed over the past 30 years is taking a toll. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many measures have been taken to reduce this dependency. The proportion of Russian gas varies monthly, Gewessler said when asked by Jörg Leichtfried (SPÖ) why the proportion is currently higher again. Overall, the goal is to completely end this dependency by 2027, Gewessler emphasized. The way out of the crisis and dependency must go through renewable energy sources.

It expects lower electricity prices to reach end consumers throughout the year, said Gewessler in the direction of Jörg Leichtfried (SPÖ) and Katharina Kucharowits (SPÖ). Until then, support measures will come into force, such as the brake on the price of electricity. The situation is continuously monitored. E-Control and the Federal Competition Authority also closely followed the development. With regard to the reform of the European electricity market, a proposal from the European Commission will be presented in March. End customer rights would have to be strengthened and end customer prices decoupled from wholesale markets, Gewessler demanded. Overall, a stable framework is needed to ensure the expansion of renewable energy. These are the cheapest energy sources, would not finance any questionable regime and thus guarantee independence.

The regulation of the taxonomy is important because it determines the direction in which the demand for sustainable energy goes, emphasized Gewessler to Astrid Rössler (Greens). With regard to Austria’s lawsuit against parts of the regulation, Gewessler believes the odds are good as the European Commission has exceeded its powers.

Austria was very committed to the Authorization Ordinance to speed up project approvals in the renewable energy field and supported the federal states with information on this, Gewessler told Stephanie Krisper (NEOS).

The competitiveness and business model of the future for European industry lies in green technologies, explained Gewessler to questions from Carmen Jeitler-Cincelli (ÖVP), Gerhard Deimek (FPÖ) and Michel Reimon (Green). Big solutions are needed for the path to climate neutrality in industry. The Green Deal industrial plan presented by the European Commission offers, among other things, aid regulations and simplified procedures. The resources required for this are an investment in the place of business. Gewessler saw the need for improvement at the industrial level for the area of ​​employees and their qualification requirements. Petra Steger (FPÖ) criticized “climate bigotry” as the industry is being hampered by measures and requirements.

Austria will need large amounts of hydrogen; However, this must be used sensibly, said Gewessler when asked by Rudolf Taschner (ÖVP), with reference to the hydrogen strategy. With regard to imports, it is important to avoid dependence on a single partner. Gewessler told Georg Strasser (ÖVP) that biomass will continue to play a role in the renewable energy system and will not be banned.

Reform of the European energy market

The starting point for the debate on energy market reform was the Commission communication “Short-term energy market interventions and long-term improvements in the structure of the electricity market – a possible solution”. It foresees interventions in the electricity market that can be implemented in the short term. These were specified, among other things, by the emergency measures decrees of autumn 2022 and implemented in Austria for their contribution to the energy crisis.

There are many proposals to reform energy markets. Austria advocates greater consideration of generation sources, Environment Minister Gewessler told Tanja Graf (ÖVP).

The population and the economy must be protected from “existence-threatening” energy prices, demanded SPÖ MP Sabine Schatz and presented a motion for opinion, which remained in the minority with the votes of the SPÖ and FPÖ. In it, the SPÖ demanded measures against energy speculation and that the price formation effect of gas plants (“order of merit”) be prevented by the implementation of the “Iberian model”. As Austria is generally a transit country and an importer of electricity in winter, it is important to proceed in a thoughtful way, said Lukas Hammer (Greens) and saw the Iberian model – if so – as only a possible model at European level. For an electricity importing country like Austria, the Iberian model is “useless”, Stephanie Krisper (NEOS) criticized the SPÖ initiative.

FPÖ MP Gerhard Deimek opposed the renewal of joint loans by EU member states as part of the planned sovereignty fund and tabled a motion for an opinion that was not approved by the other parliamentary groups. FPÖ MP Petra Steger called for a “prompt, independent and efficient” investigation into the “attacks” on the Nord Stream pipelines and filed a statement request, which also remained in the minority with the FPÖ’s only votes. In addition, the federal government must work to ensure that there is no energy dependency on the US. Stephanie Krisper (NEOS) criticized the FPÖ’s positions over the years that the FPÖ had not taken any action against dependence on fossil energy or domestic energy sources.

Renovation wave strategy: existing buildings in the EU must become climate neutral by 2050

The amendment of a guideline on building efficiency aims to define the details of the renovation wave strategy and ensure that existing buildings in the EU become climate neutral by 2050. EU members are expected to draw up detailed action plans every five years. In it, they must report what steps they are taking to phase out fossil fuels in their heating and cooling systems and increase the renewal rate. In addition, energy certificates will be strengthened. In the future, renovations and upgrades must be registered in new planned renovation passes. The Commission’s proposal also provides for minimum energy standards for existing buildings, some of which must be defined at national level.

The Minister of the Environment, Leonore Gewessler, emphasized that the regulated issues would largely be the responsibility of the federal states. The “Fit for 55” package is the long-term way out of the crisis. The legislative negotiations are currently in the trialogue phase. The guideline would create planning and predictability for homeowners. This gives building stock decarbonization a tailwind. Regulations in the solar sector would have great potential, but the overall timeline could have been more ambitious, Gewessler said. In addition, subsidies were increased. It is important that the federal states also provide support in the area of ​​housing subsidies. Member states can exempt buildings listed as historic monuments, but technically it is also possible to renovate such buildings, as shown by the renovated parliament, Gewessler told Tanja Graf (ÖVP).

Comprehensive renovations are a big burden for landlords, Martin Engelberg (ÖVP) advocated for proportionate implementation in view of the current parallel discussion on rental brakes. Leases are risk-free investments currently yielding almost 8% returns, Jörg Leichtfried put this into perspective and countered that the renovations were not financed by rents.

The federal government must work against the plans of the “Fit-for-55” package at the European level and reject them – in particular the ban on gasoline and diesel vehicles, demanded FPÖ MP Petra Steger via a request for an opinion , which received the votes, the FPÖ remained in the minority.

With its candidacy, the FPÖ is clinging to a “sinking ship” that will disappear, criticized Lukas Hammer (Green). The directive will bring a “push” to Europe. Astrid Rössler (Greens) also criticized the FPÖ motion as a denial of reality. The proposed directive is “extremely important” to rehabilitate the built fabric. (close) pst