EU Parliament backs extensive net-zero industry ‘wishlist’, including nuclear

EU Parliament backs extensive net-zero industry ‘wishlist’, including nuclear

The European Parliament voted on Tuesday (21 November) to include 17 technologies – including nuclear energy – in the EU’s Net-Zero Industry Act, paving the way for talks with EU member states to finalise the law in December, and probably whittle down the list.

Read the original French article here.

EU lawmakers led by the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), the liberal Renew group, and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) adopted their position with 376 votes in favour, 139 against and 116 abstentions.

“This is good news for the climate and the European economy, and it is a very clear response to the Americans and their IRA [Inflation Reduction Act],” said German MEP Christian Ehler, who is the Parliament’s lead speaker on the text for the EPP group.

The EU’s proposed Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA), initially tabled in March, will now be forwarded to EU member states in the Council of Ministers for talks in early December to finalise the law.

In its position voted today, the Parliament decided to support the development of 17 technologies deemed essential for Europe’s transition to a climate-neutral economy by 2050.

Since its presentation by the European Commission in March this year, the text has been extensively revised.

The NZIA originally included 10 technologies – rather than the current 17 – and had two separate priority lists, with one considered “strategic” and the other relegated to a secondary role.

In a vote on 25 October, the Parliament’s industry committee (ITRE) abandoned the idea of a double list and reinstated nuclear power, including both future technologies like small modular reactors and traditional reactors that were initially excluded.

A list of 17 technologies

The Net-Zero Industry Act aims to speed up the deployment of production facilities for technologies seen as essential to achieve climate neutrality, with both financial and policy support to accelerate their uptake.

The 17 technologies covered by the Parliament’s text include renewable energy (wind and solar), nuclear energy (fission, fusion, fuel cycle), energy storage; capture, transport, injection, storage and use of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide; hydrogen (transport, electrolysers, fuel cells, propulsion and production and refuelling infrastructures), alternative fuels, bio-methane, electric vehicle recharging, heat pumps, energy efficiency, thermal energy distribution and electricity networks, thermonuclear fusion, electrification and high-efficiency industrial processes for energy and carbon-intensive industries, production of biomaterials and recycling.

Ahead of the vote, some MEPs already questioned the need to open up the field to so many technologies.

“It’s become a bit like a shopping list or a Christmas wishlist,” said the Parliament’s environment committee chair, Pascal Canfin (Renew), in comments to journalists on Friday (17 November).

For Christophe Grudler, the speaker on the text on behalf of the centrist Renew group, the aim is to allow each EU country to develop the technologies that match their national needs and capacities.

For example, “the Netherlands has expectations for energy from the sea, Austria has expectations for hydropower” while France bets on nuclear and renewables, Grudler explained before the vote.

In short, “choices are often linked to geographical situations,” Grudler said.

Upcoming negotiations

Now that the European Parliament has adopted its stance, Grudler hopes the text will be adopted quickly.

The first negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission – known as trilogues – are scheduled for December, “but we need to be done by January at the latest,” said Grudler.

“The time factor worries me because if we are not able to vote in trilogue before the April plenary, we will not vote again until September-October next year” due to the upcoming European elections in June 2024, he warned.

At this stage of the discussions, Grudler fears that the EU ministers meeting in the Council may want to reduce the size of the list.

“There is a risk that the Council will come up with a request for a much more restricted list,” he remarked, saying Parliament and Council “do not see eye to eye” on the matter.

In this context, “some technologies could be open to debate,” he added without naming them. Euractiv understands these could include recycling and biomaterial technologies.

Nuclear expected to resurface

When it comes to nuclear power, however, Grudler and Canfin have set their red lines, saying it should not be questioned.

But EU ministers in the Council may see it differently. For example, “Austria’s position on nuclear power remains unchanged,” an EU diplomat told us, suggesting that Vienna will try to exclude from the NZIA.

In Parliament, the scope of the NZIA has been considerably extended in order to win a sufficiently broad majority during the plenary vote, Canfin explains, saying he anticipates heated discussions to narrow down the list during negotiations with the member states in the Council of the EU.

“The scope will probably have to be narrowed in the trilogue because there is an obvious ‘trade-off’: the broader the list, the more everyone can agree. However, not everything is strategic,” Canfin points out, suggesting a shorter list would make sense.

Environmental groups are also very much supportive of a more restrictive list – but without nuclear and technologies like carbon capture and storage, which are seen as too uncertain.

“The Parliament has opened up the list to imaginary silver bullets that may never materialise, meaning taxpayers’ money will be diverted from the key green technologies needed to decarbonise European industry on time,” warned Camille Maury, from the WWF’s EU policy office.

According to Canfin, the nuclear debate is likely to resurface during negotiations with EU member states to finalise the law.

“I think this is typically the kind of text that swells in Parliament and then tightens again afterwards” in the Council, the French MEP told journalists at a press briefing on Friday (17 November).

“And in that context, the nuclear issue will inevitably come up again,” Canfin added, anticipating heated discussions in the Council between France and Germany, who will “have another go” at the subject, as was the case already in May with the renewable energy directive.

“I won’t prejudge the final outcome, but I hope that collectively we will be wise enough not to repeat the battle we’ve had already with the renewables directive and the reform of the electricity market,” Canfin said.

Is nuclear power set for a European renaissance?

Nuclear power is making a comeback on the EU energy scene after an eventful 2022-2023 year, which according to Paris, reflects an “excellent diplomatic record” for France in defending atomic energy. EURACTIV looks at the bigger picture.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon/Nathalie Weatherald]

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