Brussels It was a dispute that raged in the negotiating rooms of the European Investment Bank (EIB) last fall. The development bank, which belongs to the EU member states, wanted to get out of the financing of fossil energy projects. Some countries, especially Germany, blocked themselves: They wanted an exception for gas.
The compromise: Fossil gas projects are still eligible until the end of 2021, provided that the EU Commission classifies them as a project in the common European interest (in the EU jargon “Projects of Common Interest” (PCI)). Ensuring security of supply is such a common interest, for example. The bank should also grant loans after 2021 for gas infrastructure that can also be used for “green gas” – such as hydrogen or biogas.
A report by the consulting firm Artelys on behalf of the European Climate Foundation now concludes that the EU does not need any further natural gas infrastructure to guarantee security of supply. New gas pipelines would have to be operational over the next forty years to pay off, otherwise the block risks wasting 29 billion euros. According to the authors of the study, the existing infrastructure is also sufficient to cover future gas requirements, even if there are sudden, politically motivated supply failures.
“The report confirms that EU decision-makers have no reason to justify prioritizing new fossil gas infrastructure in the name of EU energy security or future gas needs,” said Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, former vice president of the United Nations Climate Change Council ,
The date of publication is no coincidence: On Wednesday, the Energy Committee will vote on a new PCI list from the EU Commission. These include 32 natural gas infrastructure projects, the meaning of which the report questions. If there is a majority, the vote in plenary follows – and the projects would soon be decided.
It can only be coordinated jointly across all EU projects
Parliament does not vote on each individual project, but can only accept or reject the entire list. For this reason, some members of the Energy Committee had already asked for the vote to be postponed – in fact, they should give his approval at the end of last year.
Your problem: You reject the fossil gas projects, but at the same time you do not want to endanger the financing of the non-fossil projects, which make up a large part of the list. This includes, for example, the expansion of renewables or power lines.
Environmentalists criticized the EIB for financing gas infrastructure projects, as the pipelines built by grants will continue to operate for decades. This would make it even more difficult to turn away from gas and would also make it more expensive. In addition, the exception for CO2-neutral gas could serve as a loophole for further financing of fossil projects.
Since the new EU Commission plans to transform Europe into the first climate-neutral continent worldwide by 2050, it is necessary to phase out all fossil energy sources – including natural gas.
Green MEP Michael Bloss was also less than pleased about further EU funding for natural gas infrastructure. “Anyone who still invests in fossil gas projects today is investing in the climate and the energy market of the future,” he told the Handelsblatt, referring to the falling gas consumption, which will decrease even further in the course of the desired climate neutrality. “Instead of pushing the money into a billion dollar grave, we need a renewal of the European energy infrastructure, which is based on climate-friendly energies,” he said.
Natural gas is needed as a transition technology
Opposing voices refer to the urgency of gas as a transition technology: as an energy source, it can be used flexibly and, in addition to hydropower plants, is ideally suited to compensate for energy shortages in the event of suddenly high power consumption.
In addition, the natural gas pipelines will in future also transport biogas or hydrogen, which is generated from excess green electricity. In contrast to electricity, this gas could be stored anywhere and could also be transported using gas tankers.
The CDU European Parliamentarian Markus Pieper described the accusation that the EU does not need a new gas infrastructure, as “ridiculous” and “dangerous”. “These gas projects are absolutely essential,” he told the Handelsblatt. “I observe that everyone is panicking about climate protection and even questioning what needs to be done to achieve an affordable energy transition.” Without gas as a transition technology, the energy transition would not be feasible. He also warned: “If we no longer allow new gas projects, we will no longer have an infrastructure for CO2-neutral alternatives in the future.”
As part of the Green Deal, the plan for a climate-neutral EU, the EU Commission plans to provide more support for the development of decarbonized gases. In the future, the EU-wide power supply should be based predominantly on renewable sources, supplemented by the decarbonization of gas, the Commission writes in its climate agenda.
“To do this, it is essential to ensure that the European energy market is fully integrated, networked and digitized while maintaining technological neutrality,” it continues. Bureaucratic rates that mean nothing more than: We also need other gas pipelines.
More: EU Green Deal to push ahead hydrogen projects in the energy industry.