Proposed new European legislation presents an opportunity for Autogas
For many years, AEGPL has called on the European Commission to take action to help facilitate the uptake of alternative transport fuels, the leading one of which is Autogas. A road fuel transport mix which is 95% or more reliant on oil-based conventional fuels is totally inconsistent with climate and energy-security objectives as laid out in the 20/20/20 package, which requires the EU to reduce CO2 emissions by 20%, increase energy efficiency by 20%, and move to an energy mix based on 20% renewables by 2020.
After a long consultation process with automotive stakeholders, including AEGPL, the proposal was released in January. It consists of two main elements: The requirement of Member States to produce policy-frameworks detailing how they will increase the use of alternative transports fuels in their territories and binding targets for distances between alternative fuel filling stations or filling points. For Autogas, we can state with some certainty that the first element offers a great opportunity with the second being potentially problematic.
National policy frameworks
The obligation for Member States to formulate national policy frameworks for alternative fuels is an excellent opportunity not just to highlight our key Autogas messages to policy-makers, but also turn those messages into concrete policies. The key point here is the potential for added stability regarding incentives – one of the key problems that some markets have faced in the past years.
In the national policy frameworks, governments would have to provide details on how they are encouraging the use of alternative fuels. At a minimum, they should contain elements such as reductions in road tax, access to restricted urban areas and parking, tax-breaks for conversions, and – of course – reduced excise duty on the fuel, to mention a few. As we know, many member states in the European Union already have some of these incentives in place for Autogas and other alternative fuels, but the need to report to the Commission on their medium to long term strategy will offer investors, car-makers and consumers more solid indications of the long-term direction of transport-fuel policies.
National targets for alternative fuels infrastructure – but not for Autogas
As most of our readers know, Autogas is Europe’s and indeed the world’s leading alternative fuel, in terms of both usage and infrastructure. We have in the region of 27,000 filling stations across Europe, a number which other alternative fuels can only dream of. Consequently, the Commission decided that a binding target for Autogas stations is not needed.
In contrast, the proposal does include binding targets for filling points for electricity, compressed and liquefied natural gas (CNG and LNG) and hydrogen, all of which theoretically must be met by 2020. For electricity, the target is around 5 million filling points in total across the European Union with around 500,000 of them being publicly accessible. Crucially, the Commission does not see this infrastructure being built outside of major urban centres, noting that electric vehicles will for the foreseeable future be used for short distance journeys only.
For CNG, the target is one station every 150 kilometres, meaning that a driver should be able to get to a filling station and re-fuel within that distance. This means an additional 650 CNG stations should be built over the next 7 years across the entire EU – a very small number compared with the 27,000 that carry Autogas! The logic of this target is questionable, as CNG stations are expensive to build and with this kind of minimum coverage will presumably find it very difficult to turn a profit. For hydrogen, the target is 300 km and for LNG, it is one station every 400 km across Europe’s main motorway network.
Remember: it’s just a proposal
There is some concern that these binding targets could incite governments to move away from Autogas and look to other fuels. While this proposal will require AEGPL and its members at the national level to ensure that our message are fully heard and understood, the proposal has a long way to go before it can become law and we expect it to change significantly along the way.
The process for turning proposals like this from the European Commission is relatively complex, but in a nutshell involves the Commission (The European Union’s executive arm) releasing a proposal, which is then debated and amended by the Parliament (representing the people) and the Council (representing EU Member State governments). Until a compromise is reached that satisfies, to a lesser or greater extent, all three institutions, the proposal is effectively bounced between them; if necessary, committees are formed to find a deal that suits all parties. This process can take from a year to several years depending on how controversial the proposal is and also on its complexity. It is not uncommon for some proposals to be “watered down” and from time to time they are even rejected.
AEGPL has already had several off-the-record discussions with national government representatives in Brussels and it is clear that the binding target element of the proposal will be strongly opposed, for two main reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, the proposal does not detail at all how or indeed who will pay for the construction of infrastructure. Secondly, some Member States’ parliaments have expressed concern that this proposal breaks one of the core principles of EU law, subsidiarity, which dictates that the Union should only be involved in making law where the actions of local, regional or national governments are insufficient. We therefore strongly expect that this element of the proposal will be amended to some extent. As one Commission official put it at a conference sponsored by AEPGL last week: if there are to be any changes with the targets, they will be ones that make them less stringent.
An opportunity not to be missed
Targets for other alternative fuels or not, the proposal offers the European Autogas industry a great chance to hammer home some our key messages: we have an alternative transport fuel that, with the right policies in place, can reduce CO2 emissions by around 350 million tonnes by 2020 as well as improve air quality – and the infrastructure to supply the fuel is already in place. Quite simply, Autogas is the most cost-effective way for Europe to wean itself off conventional fuels (petrol and diesel) during the coming decade. The supply, infrastructure and benefits are all there. All that is needed now is a sensible and perhaps most importantly, a stable, policy environment. AEGPL’s Autogas Roadmap has all the figures to prove this (http://www.aegpl.eu/media/16300/autogas%20roadmap.pdf).
As well as undertaking an extensive public affairs campaign on this topic in Brussels over the coming months, AEGPL has set up a member taskforce to facilitate the use of clear and consistent messages, as well as offering the chance for members to exchange information on lobbying and communications strategies at the national level. Autogas can and should be a central part of the national strategies for alternative fuel development in countries across Europe.
We are confident that, with appropriate effort in Brussels and in national capitals, we can continue progress towards the objective stated in the Autogas Roadmap of 10% of the passenger car fuel mix in Europe by 2020.
If you would like further information on this topic, please contact AEGPL’s Communications Manager, David Appleton at email@example.com.