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A renewable energy lobby seeks power in Brussels

The European Renewable Energy Council thinks renewables could supply 100 percent of Europe's future energy needs.

Moving models of flowers powered by solar energy are displayed at the entrance of the European Union Council headquarters in Brussels Feb. 18, 2008, to raise awareness energy issues. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of powering homes and factories with energy from wind, waves or the sun's rays was viewed as the pipedream of a few hippies and idealists.

But the hard-headed lobbyists representing the renewable energy industry in Europe these days has come a long way from that image of tree-hugging dreamers.

“The European renewable energy industry has an annual turnover of about 45 billion euros and employs 450,000 people,” said Christine Lins, general secretary of the European Renewable Energy Council.

EREC is an umbrella group for a series of associations representing what were once called “alternative energies.”

Although the associations sometimes work with environmental campaigners like Greenpeace, their membership includes industrial giants such as Electricite de France, Shell and Siemens.

Renewable energy these days is a big business that could be about to get a whole lot bigger if world leaders agree on a package to cut global warming at the U.N. climate change conference starting Dec. 7 in Copenhagen.

EREC has an annual budget of 850,000 euros ($1.3 million) and directly employs 10 people at its Brussels headquarters, which it shares with affiliate organisations such as the European Biomass Association and the European Ocean Energy Association. In total about 100 people work at the Renewable Energy House.

It is part of a vast lobbying community — some estimates put the total number of lobbyists at 15,000 — that has grown up in Brussels around the institutions of the European Union which are headquartered in the Belgian capital.

EREC seeks to influence European legislation to create "positive frameworks" for renewable energy and promote European technologies in the renewable sector. It hailed the EU's target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 to 30 percent by 2020 as a major success.

The umbrella group provides information and consultancy for political decision makers from local to international level as well as seeking to reach out to the international media and other opinion makers.

EREC also works as a forum for exchanges of information and promotes research on the development of renewable technology.

“We have some of our members that are the utilities, that not only run wind farms and concentrated solar thermic plants but also nuclear or coal power plants,” Lins said.

“We also see that more and more hydrocarbon companies are interested in biofuels because clearly they understand that their markets are limited and that they need to diversify in order to ensure the future of their companies.”

With the 27-nation European Union committed to producing a fifth of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, Lins said the sector could be generating 150 billion euros ($225 billion) in revenues and 2 million jobs across the EU a decade from now.

That could be just the beginning.

“It is absolutely feasible that we go far beyond the 20 percent,” she said.

“There are no limits. Now, there is a discussion going on about the new energy policy of the European Union until 2050, and there we clearly see that renewables can contribute up to 100 percent.”