A report from the EU Low Carbon Economy Tour
During the week of May 26 – June 1, 2013, a delegation of eight energy policy advisors from Capitol Hill and around Washington, D.C., participated on the EU Low Carbon Economy Tour to Berlin, Stuttgart, rural Baden-Württemberg and Hessen, and Brussels, to gain firsthand insight into the transition to renewable energy production in Germany and to learn about the role of the European institutions in promoting a low carbon economy across the European Union.
In Germany the thematic focus was on the economics of the energy transition and its bottom-up development, which reflects its support from the general public and its acceptance across the political spectrum. The tour began in Berlin with briefings from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment and the Federal Ministry for Economics and Technology. The government representatives outlined the history and current state of play of the German energy transition, but focused primarily on scenarios Germany is pursuing to ensure the continued development of renewable energy production, the expansion and integration of the grid system, and policies for increasing energy efficiency, especially in electricity conversion and the energy consumption of buildings. Energy efficiency was revisited throughout the tour as an area whose potential as a cost-saving measure has yet to be fully realized in both the United States and Europe.
In Berlin the delegation met with other stakeholders, including the German Cooperative and Raiffeisen Federation (DGRV). DGRV outlined the success of the cooperative business model in the energy transition. In recent years the number of energy cooperatives in Germany has risen dramatically as the Renewable Energy Act, the federal legislation which is the backbone to the energy transition, made it easier for individuals, communities and SMEs to invest in renewable energy projects. Cooperatives, especially in rural areas, create local revenue flows in regions with typically weak infrastructure – and support locally-based job creation, financial investment and tax revenue. The delegation also met with RWE, one of the “big four” utility companies in Germany, to hear their perspective on the energy transition and to learn about the investment strategies of larger utility companies in renewable energy production, especially after the German government’s decision to phase out nuclear energy production entirely by 2022.
The delegation then travelled by train to Stuttgart, the capital of the German state of Baden-Württemberg and one of the most prosperous regions in Europe, a predominantly rural state which is also well known as an innovation hub for R&D, automotive engineering, and electronics manufacturing. Baden-Württemberg has become a model region for economic investment in environmental technologies, resource efficiency and sustainable transport. The implementation of the energy transition at the state level was the topic of a spirited conversation with representatives from the Baden-Württemberg state government, local industry and civil society.
The following day took the delegation on a tour of local, community-owned renewable energy projects. The first stop was a visit to a wind turbine operated by Energy Cooperative Ingersheim (“Energiegenossenschaft Ingersheim und Umgebung eG”). The turbine, which is citizen-owned, has a production capacity of two megawatts, enough energy for 1,600 households – or half of the local population. The mayor of Ingersheim and a Member of the German Federal Parliament from the region were on hand to welcome the delegation and to affirm that the turbine is not only a source of energy for the local community, but also a source of local pride.
The next stop was Erbach, in southern Hessen, to visit the Energy Cooperative Odenwald (“Energiegenossenschaft Odenwald eG”), which was founded in 2009 and has over 1,900 members from the local area. The cooperative boasts of the local added value its energy projects provide to the community. Their energy installations, mostly solar projects, provide locally-sourced energy for over 1,000 households and, to date, over €17 million in contracts have been awarded to 165 local companies. The delegation was also shown the building site of the “House of Energy”, a former brewery that the cooperative is converting into a low-carbon, community resource center.
The final stop was Ostfildern, a suburb of Stuttgart, where the delegation toured the neighborhood of Scharnhauser Park, a former American military base and at present the largest development project in the Stuttgart region. Scharnhauser Park is an exemplary case of sustainable city planning based on low energy consumption and ecological community development. Eighty percent of heating energy comes from renewable sources. Energy efficiency was again of particular interest here; the many new buildings going up in Ostfildern are being constructed to meet the most rigorous energy consumption standards in Baden-Württemberg. The water drainage system, sewage management and street lighting are also designed to be models of sustainable urban development.
The delegation next traveled by train to Brussels to learn about the role of the European institutions in advancing a low carbon economy across the European Union. Bas Eickhout, a Member of the European Parliament from The Netherlands, gave the delegation an overview of the current policy debates in Europe on energy issues, which have played out in recent years in the context of the Euro crisis. A cross-party, staff-level meeting followed with the climate and energy advisors to the different political party groupings (caucuses) in the European Parliament and staffers from the Parliament’s committees on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, and Industry, Research and Energy. The delegation met separately with representatives from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action to discuss the economic impacts of low carbon economic policies, including the EU Emissions Trading System, carbon capture and storage, and possible targets to be set for 2030.
Another item on the agenda in Brussels was the upcoming trade negotiations between the United States and the European Union on a possible Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The delegation discussed the prospects for energy issues in the negotiations with the Head of Unit for trade strategy in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Trade, as well as representatives from American and European business associations in Brussels. A separate meeting with other representatives from DG Trade looked at the importance of low carbon goals in other free trade agreements the EU is a party to.
It was not only the American delegation that learned during the EU Low Carbon Economy Tour. The tour’s European interlocutors benefitted from the delegation’s insights into the current energy debates in Washington and across the United States. Topics of interest included the priorities for the Obama Administration’s second term, pending legislation in Congress, the “all-of-the-above” energy strategy in the U.S., legislative action at the state level, and energy efficiency.