Reflecting the broader policy climate in which energy poverty is receiving considerable attention from several EU institutions, I have had the pleasure of speaking at two policy sessions in Brussels over the past few weeks.
The first event was a panel discussion held on Wednesday 15th June during the EUSEW. The session was organised by DG Energy of the European Commission, and was titled ‘Local Solutions for the Fight Against Energy Poverty’. The other speakers included Theresa Griffin MEP for the North West of England, Veronica Dunn a councillor in the City of Newcastle, and Daniël Termont, Mayor of Ghent.
It was very interesting and useful to look at the role of local-level actors in tackling energy poverty – indeed as noted by several of the speakers, local government involvement is both essential and necessary. Theresa Griffin reflected on the ‘New Deal for Energy Consumers’, for which she was rapporteur, and called for a holistic approach to energy poverty alleviation that combines both social and energy policies. Meanwhile, Veronica Dunn reflected on the issue that statistics often hide ward-level and regional variations in energy poverty, before outlining the successful Warm up North partnership scheme. From Mr Termont we learnt that every Ghentian can ask for a free energy scan of their home and seek free energy efficiency advice, as well as benefit from a 0% or 2% loan for improvements (the lower rate is for lower-income households). During my time allocation, I talked about the issue of identifying energy poor households on the doorsteps, and the findings emerging from the EVALUATE project. It was refreshing to hear Eero Ailio – Deputy Head of Unit of the Internal Energy Market at DG Energy, who chaired the panel debate – state the European Commission’s commitment to addressing energy poverty, by way of establishing a broad pan-EU definition and launching an energy poverty observatory later this year.
The mood of the second event on 7th July was somewhat different given the UK’s recent disappointing referendum result, with some participants expressing concern about the future direction of energy poverty policy at the European-scale, given the UK’s instrumental role to date in shaping debates and practice. Nevertheless, Public Policy Exchange assembled an excellent group of speakers to discuss ‘Ending Energy Poverty in Europe: Towards an Inclusive Energy Union’, which was chaired by our own Professor Stefan Bouzarovski. The daylong conference was split across four thematic sessions with presentations from:
- Oscar Guinea, policy officer within the Electricity and Gas Retail Markets, European Commission;
- Oliver Jung, policy officer with the European Heat Pump Association;
- Maarten De Groote, head of research at the Building Performance Institute Europe;
- Ingo Wagner, policy and project officer with Euroheat & Power;
- Adrian Joyce, Secretary General of EuroAce;
- Sébastien Doligé, Advisor for Retail Markets and Consumer Issues, EURELECTRIC;
- Agata Krause, Research Coordinator at Housing Europe;
- Sam Hägglund, Secretary General, European Federation of Building and Woodworkers.
Some of the key issues raised included the use of non-energy levies on electricity bills around Europe, for items such as TV licencing (GR, IT, PT) and property taxes (GR); processes of ‘social washing’ which is akin to ‘green washing’ and occurs when social benefits are instrumentalised but used superficially, and the linguistic difference between fuel poverty and energy poverty. Sébastien Doligé highlighted the problems that unpaid bills can cause for energy companies, and argued against additional legislation on energy poverty at the EU-scale.
Discussions also turned to the energy market as a construct, and the problematic manner in which the consumer is positioned as being at fault for not engaging with the market, rather than the other way round. There was some level of debate on whether energy is a commodity or a right, and what precisely it is a right to, with Stefan Bouzarovski arguing that it is about energy services rather than energy per se. My own presentation looked at the pan-EU policy and data context, and argued for better provisions in both domains, particularly in terms of a pan-EU definition and new survey instrument. My slides can be viewed here: http://www.slideshare.net/HarrietThomson/energy-poverty-in-europe
Stefan concluded the event by commenting on the significant advancements made on the topic, and the level of sophistication achieved in discussions on energy rights and energy efficiency. Stefan expressed his optimism for future discussions and practical work on energy poverty, particularly with the EU taking a stronger oversight role.