Dumping Russian energy raises environmental concerns.
The European Commission will propose ways for the EU to reduce its reliance on Russian energy imports on Wednesday, but this could conflict with the EU's climate goals.
The Commission's Russia solution is REPowerEU, a large package of measures aimed at everything from increasing renewable energy to investing in alternative gas and hydrogen supply and increasing energy savings.
Green groups and clean energy advocates are concerned that the Commission will try to replace Russian oil and gas imports with imports from other countries, investing billions in new pipelines and import terminals rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to quickly transition to greener energy sources.
"Entering into long-term gas contracts with alternative suppliers is replacing one gas dependency with another," said Sarah Brown, a senior analyst at the Ember think tank.
In a speech Monday, Alok Sharma, the British minister in charge of the COP26 climate talks in November, addressed this concern, calling clean energy "a matter of security" and warning that "investing in fossil fuels will only risk stranded assets."
The Commission is well aware that it is treading a fine line in trying to phase out Russian energy without jeopardizing the EU's long-term climate goals.
After her last meeting with energy ministers, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said, “It is imperative that we take forward our work to become independent from Russian fossil fuels." She went on to say that simply replacing 155 billion cubic meters of Russian gas with gas from other sources is "neither sustainable nor affordable" Despite this warning, member countries from Norway to Algeria and beyond are working hard to find new sources of supply.
According to a senior Commission official, the package will consist of 15 documents ranging from legal proposals to guidelines, recommendations, and strategies. According to a draft communication, they fall into four categories: energy conservation, supply diversification, energy transition acceleration, and combining investments and reforms.
According to the draft, implementing the strategy will cost an extra €195 billion between now and 2027. This is in addition to the funding required for Fit for 55, the Commission's legislative package aimed at reducing emissions by 55 percent by the end of the decade.
Under Fit for 55, renewable energy will increase from 511 gigawatts today to 1,067 GW by 2030; REPowerEU aims to increase that to 1,236 GW by 2030, as part of an effort to increase renewables' share of the EU's energy mix from 40% to 45 percent by 2030.
To that end, the Commission will propose new laws to dramatically speed up the permitting process for renewable energy projects — one of the industry's biggest challenges — as well as new rules to popularize solar energy, such as making rooftop solar panels mandatory for new buildings starting next year and on all existing public buildings by 2025. It also aims to increase biomethane production to 35 billion cubic meters by 2030, as well as produce 10 million tons of renewable hydrogen and import 10 million tons of hydrogen.
Brussels also wants to raise the proposed reduction target for energy consumption from 9% to 13% by 2030.
All of this is very environmentally friendly, but the package also seeks to ensure "adequate alternative gas supplies to cover Europe’s gas demand by diversifying external supplies." This will necessitate the construction of new liquefied natural gas import terminals and pipelines, as well as the retrofitting of existing pipelines to allow gas to flow in both directions.
Since February, 22 LNG transport projects worth €6 billion have been announced, proposed, or revived, according to Global Energy Monitor. Greig Aitken of the NGO warned of a "stampede" of projects that could add "unnecessary" capacity to the bloc.
The danger is stranded assets, or infrastructure that will be obsolete in the long run as the EU transitions away from fossil fuels. Instead of investing in permanent facilities that would lock in gas use for decades or end up as a useless asset, Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at the Bruegel think tank, suggested that the EU use temporary floating gas terminals.
Sharma issued a similar cautionary statement. "Any project where they put money in, whether they are going to get a return," private investors must consider.
Tagliapietra added that meeting the immediate need to replace Russian energy "mplies accepting apparently contradicting solutions. In the short-term it might be OK to use a bit more coal, if in the meantime we seriously ramp up renewables and energy savings."
By fLEXI tEAM