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Threat to clean energy transition projects from proposed changes to EU funding

Threat to clean energy transition projects from proposed changes to EU fundingMonday, 14 January, 2019

*** updated 14/01/2019 ***

Whatever happens with Brexit, the Energy Saving Trust would like to see the UK remain a part of European scientific, energy and environment research funding programmes. But even if the UK continues as a partner in these programmes, we’re concerned that proposed changes to EU funding rules could limit our, and similar organisations’, ability to participate in cross-border research.

Over the last decade, UK companies, universities and organisations have benefited from European funding for projects relating to ‘building capacity for the energy transition.’ This funding enables us to collaborate with partners from across the EU, to develop and test new approaches to get more energy efficiency and renewable energy into our homes and communities.  

Energy Saving Trust has participated in over 30 projects of this sort: they're a big part of our work and help us develop innovative services. To give just one example, in the current EU Heroes project, we work with organisations from 6 other countries to develop new funding and delivery models for community-owned solar generation.  

We and other UK organisations have accessed this funding for a long time: ‘building capacity for the energy transition’ projects were funded under the EU's Intelligent Energy Europe Programme until 2013 and since then have been funded under the broad ‘Horizon 2020’ science and research funding programme. But, for the period after 2020 the Commission has proposed to move funding for these projects away from the Horizon 2020 programme to a different funding programme:  Life+   

Because Life+ has different funding rules to Horizon 2020, that could mean less money being made available, on more restrictive terms. That’s a worry we share with organisations working in this area across Europe. And then there are concerns linked to specifics of the UK’s situation with Brexit looming.

EU level concerns

Lower funding rates

Unlike the current (Horizon 2020) funding programme, projects under Life+ are funded at only 60%, so organisations have to find the additional 40% from other sources.  Also, under Life+, organisations can only draw 7% of funding to cover their operating and specific project delivery costs, compared to 25% under Horizon 2020.

For most potential beneficiaries these changes pose a significant barrier to uptake; our partners tell us they would be unable to justify the investment needed to develop proposals or fully recover their costs from implementing projects on the basis of the proposed funding criteria.  For us and our partners, who have been very active within the H2020 programme, this will mean that market uptake projects will no longer be feasible and we will no longer participate in the programme.

We need the widest variety of different organisations and companies involved in energy transition projects in the UK and beyond. Everyone recognises that focusing on cutting carbon is more urgent than ever.  This is the wrong time to be introducing a new barrier to engagement with these programmes.

Overall level of funding

We understand the proposal is that ‘clean energy transition’ projects should receive €1bn in funding from Life+. That might sound a lot, but that's for at least 27 countries for six years.

Given the urgency of the climate challenge - and the increasing ambition of climate change and energy efficiency policies in both Europe and the UK – it’s hard to see that that's going to achieve the transformative change we need.

Protecting the available funding

If this funding is to be shifted to Life+, it's also important that the ‘clean energy transition’ funding is given a specific protected budget line, to ring-fence spending in this area and prevent its diversion into different types of project.

What you can do to influence the outcome

Negotiations about the LIFE+ Programme will start this month (January), in parallel to the discussions about the Horizon work programme. It is still possible for changes to be made and this presents an opportunity for us to make our voices heard.

If you agree with the concerns we raise you could:

  • Contact to explain your concerns and possibly meet with:

    •  MEPs, particularly those involved in this process (see in particular  ENVI Committee but also ITRE Committee member lists)
    • The Head of the Energy Unit (Vincent Berutto) or the project officers of current H2020 projects at the Executive Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises (EASME)
    • European Commission representatives at DG ENER (energy policy), DG CLIMA (Life+ programme), DG RTD (Horizon programme)
  • Get in touch with your national Government representatives to ensure they understand the issues and can make a strong representation of our views in the trialogue negotiations between the European Commission, EU Parliament and EU Council.

UK specific concerns

UK commitment to Life+ 

While no-one knows what will happen with Brexit, the UK government has committed to ongoing engagement in the Horizon funding programme post-Brexit. That's not the case with Life+. We're concerned that the proposed shift of the energy sub-programme to Life+ places an additional risk of a lack of long term UK engagement. For UK organisations, we’re calling on the UK Government to:

  • Commit to continued support for the energy sub-programme post-Brexit if the proposed changes go ahead.
  • Ensure cross departmental cooperation and strong representation of UK beneficiaries concerns about the unfavourable financing rates proposed in the forthcoming negotiation process
  • Share this information with other beneficiaries of EE projects in your country and / or more broadly and join forces to call for a positive outcome.

If you want to work with Energy Saving Trust or would like guidance on how to respond, drop a line to: emilie.charmichael@est.org.uk