Lebrun: "Consumers should be at the heart of Energy Union"

We are speaking to Michel Lebrun (EPP/BE), former President of the European Committee of the Regions, member of Viroinval Municipal Council and current rapporteur on "Delivering a New Deal for Energy Consumers", adopted by members of CoR's ENVE commission on 24 February 2016.


Why do you think Europeans need a new deal for energy?

The Energy Union is one of the key projects for the EU and we want it to bring real and visible benefits to our citizens. With the advantages from new technical and technological solutions, as well as increasing number of smart innovations, European consumers deserve to be empowered so they can better control their own energy consumption and reduce their bills. With these developments, they should also be able to become so called "prosumers" by producing clean energy for their own consumption, as well as sharing it with others. With a good legal framework in place, real promotion and sufficient support for such an approach on the ground, energy efficiency would be improved and the use of renewable energy across Europe would be increased. Moreover, this would help us to meet the COP21 targets reducing greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time contributing to our well-being as well as our planet's. It's a classical win-win situation, which we cannot afford to miss.

How could local and regional authorities help deliver such a vision?

We will have a very important role to play in implementing the European Commission's “New Deal for Energy Consumers" on the ground. This ambitious plan addresses the central role of citizens empowering them to participate in energy markets. In most cases, it is the local or regional authorities who are responsible for creating and financing infrastructure for distribution, for metering, management of energy demand or decentralised production. If our objective is to make consumers more independent and responsible for their own energy consumption, they should be provided with a regulatory framework and sufficient, easily-accessible funding to put in place smart grids and meters. By applying those cost effective, efficient, easy to use and safe technologies, which are crafted towards consumers' needs and expectations, we can contribute to the energy transition towards sustainable and inclusive retail energy market. At the end, the targets must be the reduction of the energy bill and the rationalisation of our consumption. The smart technologies must offer efficient tools to achieve booth of these essential objectives

What concrete proposals are you making in your opinion?

First of all, we propose to facilitate people's access to information. In the end our success will not solely depend on technological advancements, but also on people's awareness of the rational use of energy or respect for environmental protection. Awareness-raising efforts will need to be accompanied by full access to information on energy supply offers, contracts, products and services. We will only be successful if we make sure this information is simple, clear, reliable and free. Secondly, we need a standardisation of an energy bill with clear information on its elements. A citizen's path towards reducing consumption and spending or towards generating electricity should be as easy as possible. Local and regional authorities should be there to offer a helping hand.

Does this mean that a municipal or regional administration could help us change our energy supplier for one more suited to our needs?

Exactly. We should be able to offer you easy access to information, in order to facilitate such a process. To give you an example, in my region, Wallonia, a price comparison tool has been introduced so that everyone can access the supplier price that suits them best. There is no reason why it shouldn't be a model to be shared elsewhere in Europe. But apart from such tools, other obstacles like long or complex bureaucratic procedures need to be eliminated too. In fact my opinion calls for an EU regulation on reducing the transfer time for customers switching from one provider to another. We also need to ban any abusive commercial practices if we really aim to empower consumers to be in charge of their consumption and so their bills.

Do you think it will be possible?

Yes, but we need a little bit more cooperation to harmonise our approaches and definitions across Europe. Our consumer bills should be easier to read and compare. My opinion asks the European Commission to put together a "standard" bill incorporating a number of elements that would be uniform, legible, clear and comparable at the European level. As a consumer you should also be able to choose the format in which you would prefer to receive such document, by post or email, without any discrimination.

Are there any major obstacles or controversies around smart technologies?

There are some legal challenges that need to be tackled. Especially in the area of data protection. On the one hand, you might want to have easy access to your energy metering data in different formats: through your smartphone or online. On the other hand, you would like to be assured that your consumption data is well protected and not leaked to any third parties who could take advantage of it. Our legal regulations need to make sure that you would be clearly informed about management and use of your consumption data, detailing which information will be collected and kept, how often and for how long. We definitely need and call for a strict framework for the security and protection of private life with regard to smart meters.

How should regions or cities apply smart technologies in order to save on public energy?

Local and regional authorities may take such steps by replacing public lighting with LED lightening, for example, as we have done in my municipality, Viroinval in Belgium. This is significantly less energy-demanding. There are many good examples developed at local and regional level which should be shared and applied in other cities and regions of the EU.

Source: EPP Group of the CoR