The lobbying effort to save the EU’s fossil boiler industry
The European People’s Party pushed hard for an amendment that creates breathing space for boilers.
There’s a boiler-sized loophole in proposed rules for renovating buildings to make them more efficient — and NGOs say that’s the result of industry lobbying.
When the European Parliament voted Tuesday on a proposed a revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), MEPs agreed to phase out fossil fuel-fired boilers from households by 2040 at the latest — but with a catch. They added an amendment that will allow boilers in new buildings as long as they’re certified to run on renewable fuels like biofuels or hydrogen.
Ahead of the vote, there was an intensive lobbying effort by boiler companies keen to ensure their industry isn’t wiped out in the effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, according to a new report by NGOs European Environmental Bureau, the Environmental Coalition on Standards and Green Transition Denmark.
The NGO report says that Liquid Gas Europe, a lobby group for EU liquid petroleum gas firms, created Rural Futures — an organization undeclared in the lobbying register — “to pose as [a] grassroots campaign.” On its website, Rural Futures says it is “a campaign supported by Liquid Gas Europe.”
Rural Futures pitches itself as a group looking out for the interests of rural people who will have a harder time in the green transition, and calls boilers “reliable and cost-effective technology.” It has previously hosted events, including one with Irish MEP Seán Kelly, the lead lawmaker on the EPBD for the European People’s Party.
While parliamentary negotiators are supposed to declare “scheduled meetings with interest representatives,” according to the institution’s rules, the ambiguous definition of “any meeting with the purpose of influencing the policy” creates a blurred line for industry-sponsored events.
After POLITICO contacted Kelly for comment, the Rural Futures event was added to his registry, said an assistant to the MEP.
The assistant called it an “admin error” and said “it was our understanding that we didn’t break any rules,” adding: “We should be better with transparency.”
“We intend to ensure that we will register any meetings, potentially considered to be lobbying in the future to avoid any further doubt about Mr Kelly’s integrity,” they added.
Liquid Gas Europe General Manager Ewa Abramiuk-Lete said Rural Futures is “an online campaign visibly supported by Liquid Gas Europe” and “its member companies fully abide to the rules set out in the EU Transparency Register.”
That wasn’t Kelly’s only meeting on the issue.
Abramiuk-Lete told POLITICO she met with Kelly “informally” in Strasbourg at plenary sessions of the European Parliament, where they “discuss[ed] the issue” as well as at three European Energy Forum dinner events in the past year. These didn’t appear under Kelly’s virtual registry as of March 14.
Kelly’s assistant said the discussions with Abramiuk-Lete at the dinners constituted “passing conversations” that “didn’t influence the policy process.”
The Energy Forum is a non-profit that aims to inform MEPs about energy policy.
The EPP ended up pushing hard for the amendment that throws a lifeline to the boiler industry.
Kelly denied that the lobbying efforts played a role, saying he met with the gas sector “disproportionately less than others.”
“I completely reject the line of questioning that suggests I have special relationship with the gas industry ... I have no connection with any industry and I was guided by the priorities of the political group I was representing,” he said.
Parliament’s chief negotiator on the file, Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe, called the amendment “regrettable” but that it was ultimately “required to get the EPP to support the deal.”
In Tuesday’s vote, MEPs agreed on Parliament’s position on the Commission’s 2021 proposed revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, aimed at decarbonizing the EU’s building stock by 2050.
NGOs are outraged over the boiler loophole — saying out that even if a boiler is certified to use green fuels, it may never actually be plugged into such a system.
“The danger here is essentially it allows business as usual,” for the gas industry, said Jan Rosenow with the Regulatory Assistance Project NGO, since “you could certify a heating system that basically burns fossil fuels for the entirety of its existence as one that could potentially at some point also use renewable fuels.”
He pointed to the shortfall in the ability of green fuels to supply those boilers. The EU currently uses 1,300 terawatt hours of fossil gas a year for heating and cooking, but he estimates that by 2030 the bloc will only be producing and importing a total of 1,014 TWh of green hydrogen and biomethane, much of which will also be used for other purposes like supplying energy-intensive industires.
This is a fact the gas boiler industry knows well, Rosenow said, and means “they will not have to make major alterations” to their business models.
Still, Federica Sabbati, secretary-general of the European Heating Industry, said biogas and hydrogen boilers “have a role to play” as the EU needs “everything which is renewable” to meet its 2050 target.
“The bottom line is we need to keep all the doors open … because we know that electricity alone will not be able to decarbonize all types of buildings everywhere in Europe.”