Coal not ‘taboo’ as EU seeks exit from Russian gas – POLITICO


The head of the EU’s Green Deal said countries planning to burn coal as an alternative to Russian gas could do so in line with EU climate goals.

“There are no taboos in this situation,” Frans Timmermans told BBC Radio 4 Today on Thursday.

The EU, and many of its member countries, have strongly backed natural gas as a springboard as it seeks to reduce the use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, and move towards renewable energy. Just a month ago, to the chagrin of campaigners, the European Commission defined gas as a sustainable investment.

“Things have changed. I mean, history took a very sharp turn a week ago, and we have to accept that historic change,” Timmermans said.

“Poland and several other countries had planned to get out of coal, then temporarily use natural gas, then switch to renewables. If they stay longer with coal, but immediately switch to renewables, it could still be within the parameters we have set for our climate policy,” he said.

More than a third of European gas comes from Russia. Timmermans said the EU needed to “wean itself off addiction…much faster than expected.”

To this end, the EU will deploy a set of measures next week aimed at cushioning the short-term impact of a Russian gas supply disruption and accelerating the full transition from fossil fuels.

On Thursday, the International Energy Agency released a To analyse find Europe could reduce Russian imports of natural gas by more than a third in one year. A “short-term option” would be to switch from power to gas through “increased use of the European coal fleet or by using alternative fuels, such as oil, in existing gas-fired power plants”, he said. he declared. But the agency did not recommend this approach because it involved “significant trade-offs”.

Some countries are already considering a return to coal.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi told lawmakers in the country last week that “coal-fired power plants may need to be reopened to fill short-term gaps” in the wake of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

A Polish spokesperson said the situation was “too dynamic at the moment” to prejudge the longer-term policy response. But Energy Minister Anna Moskwa told POLITICO earlier this week that the EU should “de-Russify” its energy sector.

The invasion of Ukraine “does not help the cause of gas”, said Nareg Terzian, spokesman for the International Association of Petroleum and Gas Producers.

But he said “there is an important distinction to be made between what role gas plays in the EU’s energy system and where the EU gets it from”. Finding new sources of imports and drilling for new resources in Europe itself should also be part of the answer, he said.

Timmermans said that while some countries might seek to burn coal now, the response should “not slow our transition to renewables, because that’s what we need to avoid the other deadly danger we face, namely the climate crisis”.

He gave the example of Germany, which is drawing up plans to greatly increase its renewable energy targets. On Sunday, Climate and Economy Minister Robert Habeck did not rule out delaying the country’s coal and nuclear phase-out, telling German public television there were ‘no taboos’ .

But he said that delaying the nuclear phase-out would not help replace gas as any extension beyond this year would raise significant security and supply issues, and that more coal was not an alternative as Germany imports half of its coal from Russia.

European coal prices have also risen as traders try to secure non-Russian coal for utilities.

Already extremely high energy prices have soared in recent days as the war in Ukraine has rattled markets. Timmermans said there was no way around the fact that European consumers would suffer.

“I will not hesitate to say to our fellow citizens, since we are threatened in such a fundamental way, there is a price,” he said. “And it is our responsibility to ensure that this price is paid fairly in order to protect our citizens from huge price increases in the energy market.”

America Hernandez contributed reporting.

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