EU lawmakers last night (17 November) forged a long-awaited compromise on the recast buildings directive, agreeing that all new buildings would have to comply with high energy-performance standards and supply a significant share of their energy requirements from renewable sources after the end of 2020.
The recast Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (see EurActiv LinksDossier) will require the public sector to take the lead by owning and renting buildings with "nearly zero" energy standards by the end of 2018, two years in advance of the private sector. Moreover, member states were tasked to promote the conversion of existing buildings to comply with the standard.
The Swedish EU Presidency admitted that the concept of a 'nearly zero' energy building was "not a very exact expression," but said it would ensure that the legislation gives member states incentives to make significant efficiency improvements in a sector that produces a third of the EU's CO2 emissions. Sweden has been instrumental in pushing for a deal on this crucial piece of efficiency legislation before the end of its term.
Each member state will be responsible for defining its own standards, in a nod to the fact that a common system would not work in Europe as local conditions vary, for example from Finland to Greece.
Provisions for exisisting buildings disappoint
The compromise on improving the energy performance of existing buildings disappointed environmentalists, as no firm standards were laid down. The text simply states that major renovations must increase energy-savings if doing so is technically, functionally and economically feasible. But member states will have to develop national plans to encourage owners to take the opportunity to install smart meters, heat pumps and heating and cooling systems using renewables.
MEPS had sought to require member states to set percentage targets for making a minimum share of existing buildings produce all their energy on-site from renewables, effectively becoming zero-energy (EurActiv 24/04/09). Moreover, they wanted all new buildings to reach the energy-neutral standard by 2019.
But national capitals considered the Parliament's starting position to be unrealistic and were concerned about too much red tape (EurActiv 08/07/09).
Parliament and Council negotiators, seemingly relieved with the conclusion of a long progress, expressed their content with the compromise. They stressed that while the legislation will have an impact on citizens' lives by steering housing towards sustainable choices, member states will be able to implement it without an excessive administrative burden.
The energy performance certificates foreseen in the recast directive will provide further incentives for developers and building owners to invest in efficiency improvements during renovations.
Whenever a building is sold or rented out to a new tenant, a certificate must be issued with information on the energy performance level of the building and recommendations on how to improve it. The certificate will have to be displayed at buildings with over 500 m2 occupied by a public authority and which are frequently visited by the public. The threshold will fall to 250 m2 five years after the legislation has entered into force.
Member states will be responsible for putting in place their certification schemes, but the European Commission will develop a voluntary European-wide system for non-residential buildings by 2011.
More public funds
The lawmakers agreed that the key to the implementation of the reinforced legislation will be appropriate funding. As a result, an article was added to the directive on financial incentives, at both the national and EU levels.
The new legislation will require member states to list incentives from technical assistance and subsidies to low interest loans by mid-2011 for the transition to near zero-energy buildings.
Silvia-Adriana Ticău (Socialists & Democrats, Romania), the Parliament's rapporteur on the file, also stressed that member states should strive to make better use of existing EU instruments like structural funds.
EU leadership reinforced in Copenhagen
Talking to media representatives after the final meeting, the negotiators stressed that the new legislation would boost the EU's credentials in climate negotiations at the UN over a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. EU energy ministers are expected to confirm the agreement on 7 December, the day the Copenhagen climate conference starts.
"The agreement is a strong message to negotiators in Copenhagen," said Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs. He underlined that the ability of 27 countries to agree on difficult issues to fight climate change would reaffirm the EU's leadership.