Energy projects that are incompatible with Europe’s climate goals are about to be granted priority status by the European Commission, EU lawmakers warned on Thursday (11 November).
Their concern came in response to the EU’s draft list of cross-border energy infrastructure – known as projects of common interest (PCI) – which the European Commission is due to present next week.
Projects included in the list – the fifth of its kind adopted by the EU executive – can receive fast-tracked permitting and access to EU funding. And while the majority are now focused on electricity interconnections, reflecting the EU’s shift to renewable energies like wind and solar,
74 gas projects have applied for the list and 30 of them were pre-selected in the end for total funding worth €13 billion, according to campaigners who slammed the European Commission for backing the projects right in the middle of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.
“Madam Chair, let me give you the good, bad and ugly,” said Martin Hojsik, a Slovak MEP from the centrist Renew Europe political group in the European Parliament.
“The good – there is no oil. The bad – you praise the smart grids, but instead of the [fourth PCI list] when there were six projects, there are only five. And the ugly – obviously gas,” he said.
Hojsik was addressing a representative from the European Commission who was presenting the draft PCI list to the Parliament’s committee on industry, research and energy.
In response, the EU official acknowledged the missing smart grid project, saying it withdrew its application from the list. Still, the EU’s attention now is mostly focused on electricity interconnectors while remaining gas projects are aimed at helping the transition away from coal, the official replied.
But the tirade of criticism continued from lawmakers, who said the draft is out of line with Europe’s goals to rapidly decarbonise and shift to renewable energy sources.
“It seems rather to be a tool of the past’s type of energy policy,” said Claudia Gamon, an Austrian lawmaker from the centrist Renew group.
In addition, there is a missing link between the draft PCI list and Europe’s climate ambition, including the upcoming EU gas directive, added Christian Ehler from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).
Several MEPs called to adjust or scrap the list, which has been negotiated with EU countries.
“Dear colleagues, I call on you to reject this list. And Madam Director, I know that there are many pressures from different sides and you’re being lobbied even by [member] states who need to meet their climate objectives, but there are alternatives that are 100% renewable. So let us rise to the challenge and propose a new list,” said Marie Toussaint, a Green MEP.
The meeting in Parliament comes as European leaders push for increased ambition at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
The ongoing energy crunch, which saw retail energy prices quadruple in some places, requires Europe to accelerate its exit from fossil fuels, according to EU climate chief Frans Timmermans and energy commissioner Kadri Simson.
But at the same time as Timmermans is negotiating climate ambition at COP26, “this very same Commission proposes a new PCI list with gas projects included without any proper checks on their sustainability,” said Ville Niinistö from the Greens.
The hydrogen industry also criticised the list, with industry group Hydrogen Europe saying that “there is a mismatch between the ambitions of the EU Green Deal and the current list of projects”.
“Any new gas project should be future-proof and hydrogen-ready. A clear focus on building a hydrogen backbone is needed to decarbonise the EU’s economy and ensure security of supply of clean energy,” Hydrogen Europe’s CEO Jorgo Chatzimarkakis told EURACTIV.
Gas projects would emit more than Austria and Denmark combined
Europe needs to rapidly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet its climate goals, but the draft list means renewed support for unnecessary and climate-damaging fossil fuels, environmental NGOs have warned.
The fossil gas pipelines, LNG terminals and storage facilities in the list would produce more emissions than Austria and Denmark combined, according to analysis by Global Witness, an international NGO.
“We are on track for a catastrophic level of global heating that would make the planet uninhabitable for billions of people – ending public support for fossil fuel projects should be the absolute bare minimum for climate policy,” said Tara Connolly, senior gas campaigner at the NGO.
€5 billion have already gone into expanding Europe’s network of gas pipelines and import terminals since 2013, according to Global Witness, which says 40% of EU funding available for projects on the list has gone to fossil gas.
There are concerns this money will be wasted as Europe turns from gas to renewables, making much of the infrastructure redundant.
Necessary investments for transition
However, the European Commission pushed back on the criticisms, saying that the inclusion of electricity interconnectors and smart grids will be key to helping the energy transition, which is expected to see Europe becoming more reliant on electricity.
Mechthild Wörsdörfer, deputy director general at the European Commission’s energy department, told MEPs that there are no oil projects and no new gas projects, only projects carried over from previous lists.
“We reduced the number of gas projects. But in the current framework, we see that some are still needed,” she said.
“Some of the remaining ones are coal-to-gas switch. For some countries or regions where there’s still a lot of coal, we have opted now to include gas as a temporary transitional solution. Obviously, in the medium and long term we all agree that this needs to be further decreased,” Wörsdörfer added.
The gas industry also supports this position. Bronagh O’Hagan from the gas industry body Eurogas told EURACTIV: “As far as gas is concerned, the PCI list, like the TEN-E revision, should focus on coal phase-out and security of supply where relevant”.
“With the ongoing revision, we’ve seen understanding from across the institutions that some Member States will continue to need support on these points,” she added.
> Read the draft list of projects here:Annex Draft DR 5th PCI list
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]