Europe misspent business energy savings funds, auditors say

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Light-emitting diode (LED) street lamps illuminate a road in Langen, Lower Saxony, May 23, 2013. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer/File Photo

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – More than 2 billion euros of European Union funding to help businesses save energy contributed little to climate change targets and in some cases funded investments that would have happened anyway, auditors said on Monday.

The EU regards curbing energy use as essential to meeting goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and record high gas and power prices in recent months have increased the focus on measures to save energy.

But so far, EU funding to support energy savings for businesses has not been effective, the European Court of Auditors said in a report.

The EU spent 2.4 billion euros ($2.74 billion) from its budget over 2024-2020 to support energy efficiency in enterprises, including energy audits and measures to cut energy consumption or energy intensity in industry, services or the public sector.

The auditors estimated that projects backed by that funding achieved 0.3% of the annual savings needed to reach the EU’s target to cut final energy consumption by 32.5% by 2030, compared to projected levels.

“European Union funding is insufficiently linked to business needs – there was no proper analysis of what is really needed by the enterprises,” ECA member Samo Jereb told Reuters.

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Poland, accounted for the bulk of the support.

Brussels plans to increase its 2030 energy saving target, and last year unveiled plans to renovate millions of buildings to achieve the huge energy efficiency improvements needed to meet its climate goals. Residential energy savings were not covered by the auditors’ report.

The auditors said just over half of the assessed investments may have gone ahead without EU funding – and that many received grants when loans or other financial instruments would have been more suitable.

“Grants should not be used for the investments which repay themselves,” said Jereb.

The Commission should better assess the energy efficiency financing needs of countries and which type of instrument is most appropriate before committing future funds, the auditors said.

The European Commission, the EU executive, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

($1 = 0.8767 euros)

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