Essent 2.0. The CJEU surprisingly does distinguish. Support for renewable, ‘green’ energy not entirely carte blanche.

Excuse the attempt at pun in the title (which readers may have even missed. ‘Green’ v carte ‘Blanche’. It’s Thursday, and these are busy weeks). Apologies also to the readers who are new to the debate. The legality of support schemes for renewable energy  EU law has occupied mine and others’ mind for a little while now. One may want to refer eg to my paper on the Vindkraft et al judgment or to various postings on this blog. Specifically, for the latter, my post on the AG’s Opinion in Essent 2.0, case C-492/14., judgment issued today.

Bot AG had opined, very very reluctantly, that the Court’s case-law meant that Flanders could indeed reserve the benefit of the free distribution of electricity produced from renewable energy sources solely to generating installations directly connected to the distribution systems located in Flanders, thereby excluding generating installations located in other Member States.

The Court itself has now distinguished its own case-law: the EU has not harmonised the national support schemes for green electricity; this means that it is possible in principle for Member States to limit access to such schemes to green electricity production located in their territory. However the Court’s sympathy is now limited to schemes that support producers only. Green energy support schemes, whose production costs seem to be still quite high as compared with the costs of electricity produced from non-renewable energy sources, are inherently designed in particular to foster, from a long-term perspective, investment in new installations, by giving producers certain guarantees about the future marketing of their green electricity (at 110, with reference to Vindkraft).

However it is not the purpose of the Flemish scheme to give direct support to producers of green electricity. Rather, the free distribution of green electricity constitutes a financial advantage conferred primarily on the supplier of such electricity, which may, in certain circumstances, depending notably on the sale price which the consumer is charged by the supplier for his electricity, to a certain extent and indirectly also benefit the consumer (at 112).

Such a support mechanism offers no certainty that the economic advantage thus obtained for suppliers will ultimately actually and essentially be required to benefit producers of green electricity, particularly the smallest local generating installations which the Flemish Region claims to have wanted to support, which are not both producers and suppliers (at 113).

The Court is not game to assist the AG with his call for an explicit recognition of the potential to use discriminatory measures within the context of mandatory requirements (the implications of Cassis de Dijon). That is a pity, but not a surprise.

Overall, the Court’s judgment is a welcome safeguard to its more open-ended sympathy for renewable energy support schemes. Those who challenge such schemes in future, know what to do. They need to show that there is no certainty that the economic advantage obtained for suppliers will ultimately actually and essentially be required to benefit producers of green electricity, as opposed to distributors or consumers.

Next-up: a reversal of T-351/02 Deutsche Bahn?

Geert.

 

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