January 2nd, 2018

Five Unneeded, Costly, Climate Killing Fossil Fuels Projects

A Journey to the EU ‘Priority Projects’

By Frida Kieninger

On November 24, the European Union Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete presented a list of priority gas infrastructure projects, known as the Projects of Common Interest (PCI). While he claimed proudly that this year’s list shows a shift away from gas, a simple question about the real number of gas projects on the list suggests that this is not true.

In fact, the EU-Commission tried to artificially decrease the number of fossil gas projects with a simple accounting trick, by clustering projects. When counting this year’s list in the same way as the last two PCI lists, it contains even more gas projects than ever before.

A total of over 90 gas infrastructure projects will be on the 2017 PCI list. All of them are costly, unneeded fossil fuel infrastructure, which will curb much-needed investments in clean energy and energy saving measures.

US “shale” eyes on an(other) unneeded Greek LNG terminal

With 13 PCI projects, Greece seems to be “PCI champion”. There is TAP, the mega pipeline currently under construction connecting Azerbaijan to Italy, which threatens livelihoods of Greek farmers and affected communities. Also on the PCI list is the EastMed project, which would bring gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Greece, through what would be the longest and deepest subsea pipeline in existence, as well as a host of pipelines to move gas to central Europe. And, once again, there is a Greek “deja-vu” project on the EU’s priority list: the Alexandroupolis terminal in northern Greece, which would import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from across the globe.

US LNG exporter Cheniere already expressed interest in investing in this project, and it might not take long until the terminal, once built, imports fracked US gas. The problems with this project are not only its climate and environmental impacts, but also purely economic. There is already a terminal near Athens, Revithoussa LNG terminal which has been used at less than 13% of its capacity between 2012 and 2017. So why build another similarly large LNG terminal to import costly liquefied gas instead of insulating homes and incentivising distributed renewable energy generation?

Gothenburg LNG terminal: How to get a Scandinavian country hooked to gas

Scandinavian EU Member States also seem to see LNG as a liquid Holy Grail. In the port of Gothenburg, an LNG terminal called “GO4LNG” is planned, with a regasification capacity of 0.5bcm. Adding this much LNG import capacity makes no sense, given that Sweden’s entire 2015 gas demand was at 0.88bcm. Nevertheless, there are several other small-scale LNG terminals planned in Sweden. Gas only makes up for tiny proportion of the Swedish energy mix, and the country’s decline in gas demand is the steepest throughout Europe, falling by 50% between 2010 and 2015. Putting a fossil gas project in a country like Sweden on the priority list cannot be in our “common interest”.

The Baltic Pipe better stay a pipe dream

Let’s travel to Europe’s north: On this year’s PCI list, there is another major project unnecessarily increasing the already inflated gas import and transmission system of Poland and Denmark: The Baltic Pipe, a pipeline which should enable the flow of Norwegian gas from Denmark to Poland (10bcm) and from Poland to Denmark (3bcm). The new import capacity would represent more than half of Poland’s annual gas use; just with currently existing capacities, Poland can already import 240 percent more gas than it needs.

Depending solely on Russian gas can be geopolitically tricky, but Poland could already meet all of its existing demand through domestic gas reserves, imported gas from Germany and through LNG terminals. It’s high time for Poland to invest in renewables and its significant potential to reduce energy use through energy efficiency measures. Poland has to stop channelling billions of Euros to clearly unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure.

Do you really want to get hooked to gas, Malta? 

Going straight southwards, there is a small European island country that, until recently, has not been dependent on gas at all. With the start of a floating storage unit (FSU) for LNG in 2017, Malta became hooked on fossil fuels.

The FSU is built to deliver LNG to Malta for the next 18 years. As if that weren’t bad enough, the 2017 PCI list now contains a pipeline project to connect Malta to Sicily. With capacities of around 2 billion cubic meters per year, which represents more than twice the gas demand of Sweden, the project is not only unnecessary, but also clearly oversized for an island with around 440.000 inhabitants. Moreover, Malta is part of the Smart Islands Initiative aiming at moving away from fossil fuels. The island has big chances to increase energy security and independence by giving priority to domestic sources of energy like solar, tidal and wind, combined with smart demand-side measures.

“BRUA” – a gas corridor through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to Austria

Let’s move to southeastern Europe. There, the “BRUA” project aims at providing bidirectional gas flows through a 582km pipeline from the Black Sea to the Austrian Baumgarten gas hub. The latter recently made headlines due to an explosion which left one dead and several injured. To implement the BRUA project, existing networks would be upgraded and new pipeline sections built.

These plans faced a very bumpy road: The Hungarian gas transmission system operator objected to the pipeline this summer, which almost led to an end of the project. And the European Commission announced that there are “indications” that the Romanian operator involved in the project breached EU antitrust rules to prevent gas export and justify delays of gas deliveries. Also questions about the origin of the gas that would flow through BRUA are casting a shadow over this project: Gas from the Black Sea and Azerbaijan would supply the project, but it is doubtful that much gas will be provided by these suppliers. Why build a set of new pipelines if the supply cannot be expected to be high, and if there is already a network of pipelines in place that could do the job?

The lack of necessity of this project becomes even more obvious if we take into account that gas demand in the four concerned countries decreased by 16 percent between 2010 and 2015. At the same time, energy efficiency measures in the building sector of the region could lead to a decrease in yearly gas demand of 70 percent or 8.2bcm, around twice the maximum capacity of BRUA pipeline.

Costly, unreliable, unnecessary and harmful to the climate: These pipelines and LNG terminals should not be built.

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