AER survey finds that the regions need competences and financial incentives to tackle energy challenges globally and harness energy potentials locally
Paris (F), 24th November 2009
It is the regions that are best placed to harness local energy potentials and develop innovative solutions to meet Europe’s energy needs while respecting the environment. These are the initial findings of a major survey of European regions unveiled yesterday, some days before the Assembly of European Regions’ (AER) General Assembly in Belfort, Franche-Comté (F). The organisation is the largest network of regional authorities in Europe.
Covering 66 regions in 24 countries across the wider Europe, this ongoing and extensive question/answer survey represents a strong cross-section of Europe’s territorial diversity.
“The first results of the survey prove what we at AER have been repeating for many years,” AER president Michèle Sabban said yesterday. “Regions, when given the right competences and funding, can lead the charge in tackling Europe’s biggest challenges. When it comes to turning local energy assets into advantage, finding tailor-made solutions to meet energy needs and addressing environmental concerns, there is no better guiding philosophy than to ‘think global and act local’. That is how the principle of subsidiarity works, and that is how European energy policy should work.”
AER’s survey of regions found that 91% position energy as one of the key priorities in the next 15 years, that 75% already have an energy strategy in place, and that those strategies usually include a specific plan for developing renewable energy sources (RES). Regions in France and Hungary pointed out, however, that the harnessing of RES is being hampered by a lack of relevant competences. That concern is a recurring theme in the survey findings: the regions need to be empowered rather than hampered in order to effectively tackle Europe’s energy challenges.
This need is best illustrated by the regions’ diverse and innovative approaches in exploiting local energy potentials, since regions empowered with adequate competences and financing have been able to unlock such potentials within their territories. The survey highlights, for example, regions’ use of solid waste in Brussels (B) and Gelderland (NL), waves in the Açores islands (P), snow in Vasternorrland (S), straw in Bornholm (DK), “black liquor” (obtained from paper pulp) in Central Finland (FIN), solar power in the Austrian and southern European regions, as well as wood-based energy in Ticino (CH) and the Balkan regions.
Several regions are producing energy from RES at levels higher than the EU’s 20% target, while RES has enabled a number of regions to be fully independent in terms of electricity consumption. Between 88% and 100% of electricity is generated by hydropower, for example, in the regions of Maramures (RO), Norrbotten (S), Oppland (N), and Trento (I).
“RES initiatives are possible only with the policy support and, very often, financial incentives of national and European level decision-makers,” Ms Sabban stressed. “The EU, for example, could do more to promote the use of wood-based RES. So many of our regions are endowed with forests, and yet only 3% of the EU’s overall energy production is wood-based. Less developed regions in particular need financial incentives to exploit such potentials.”
Indeed the responses to AER’s survey suggest that a lack of visibility of the EU’s financial instruments is hindering regional energy policies and potentials. While 24% of respondents are now using the European Territorial Cooperation programs financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), very few are making use of European Investment Bank loans or EU support for educational and youth programs promoting RES. This underlines the increasing need to simplify EU application procedures, a cause in which AER is strongly engaged.
When it comes to the intelligent use of energy, the survey found that 40% of the regions are already using smart grid technologies. While this figure is encouraging, it also shows that further incentives are needed to help regions increase their energy efficiency in line with the EU’s 20/20/20 targets.
Speaking at a press conference held in Paris before AER’s General Assembly, the last major event before the Copenhagen summit, Ms Sabban added that: “98% of the surveyed regions believe that they can play a positive role in the fight against climate change. But the national governments and the EU must provide the regions with tools to engage in that fight.”
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