By Nina Chestney
LONDON (Reuters) -The European Union must increase the amount of renewable energy it uses and cut energy consumption by 2030 under proposals the bloc's executive Commission published on Wednesday to help meet a more ambitious goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
As part of a package of climate policies, the Commission proposed an overhaul of EU renewable energy rules, which decide how quickly the bloc must increase the use of sources such as wind, solar and biomass energy produced from burning wood pellets or chips.
The aim is to implement legally-binding targets to reduce net EU emissions by 55% by 2030, from 1990 levels, and eliminate them by 2050.
To help meet the 2050 goal, the Commission has set a more ambitious interim target for the EU to raise the share of renewable energy to 40% of final consumption by 2030, up from roughly 20% in 2019.
That replaces a previous target for a 32% renewables target by 2030, which Commission estimates suggest the bloc was on track to meet.
"Increasing the renewables target to 40% by 2030 is ambitious but achievable. Technology advancements and cost reductions in wind and solar and storage mean that renewables is the most competitive form of electricity generation today," said Ignacio Galán, Chairman and CEO of Iberdrola, which develops renewable energy.
"It will be important for every country to look at their processes for planning and permitting to ensure projects can be delivered in the necessary time scales," he added.
The Commission also proposed tightening rules that determine whether wood-burning energy can be classed as renewable and count towards green goals.
It requires biomass-fuelled power and heat plants with a capacity of 5 megawatts (MW) or above to meet sustainability criteria, and provide substantial emissions cuts compared with burning fossil fuels. Biomass plants with a capacity below 20 MW are currently exempt from those requirements.
However, Evelien van Roemburg, Oxfam EU head of office, said the renewable energy proposals will do nothing to combat climate change without ruling out the use of crop-based biofuels and the practice of burning down trees.
The package of policies, called "Fit for 55", must be negotiated by EU countries and the European Parliament, a process that can take roughly two years.
It also targets energy savings, setting a goal for EU countries to collectively cut energy consumption by 9% by 2030, compared with their projected energy use by that date under current plans.
To hit that goal, countries will be required to put in place measures to cut their final energy consumption by 1.5% each year from 2024 to 2030, nearly doubling an existing requirement of 0.8%.
That could be done by insulating buildings or installing more energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.
Europe renovates just 1% of buildings to save energy each year. Brussels hopes countries will use the EU's 800 billion euro COVID-19 economic recovery fund to launch a wave of green renovations, boosting construction sector jobs.
The Commission said all revenues from carbon permit auctions under the EU's Emisssions Trading System and national CO2 auctions will have to be channelled to green investments, including investments in energy efficiency measures and renewables.
The Commission also proposed countries renovate 3% of buildings owned or occupied by public bodies each year to transform them into "nearly zero-energy buildings".
Currently, countries are required to renovate 3% of central government buildings to weaker standards. Central government buildings make up less than 1% of the roughly 260 million buildings in the EU, while public buildings make up roughly 10%.
(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Barbara Lewis and Gareth Jones)