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The energy crisis is a “wake-up call” for Europe to abandon fossil fuels

“Today’s experience of rising energy prices is a clear wake-up call (…) that we must accelerate the transition to clean energy, wean ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels”, a senior EU official told reporters as the European Commission unveiled a series of measures to deal with the crisis.

The European Union is facing a sharp rise in energy prices, driven by increased global demand as the world recovers from the pandemic and weaker than expected natural gas deliveries from Russia. Wholesale electricity prices are up 200% from the 2019 average, according to the European Commission.

“Winter is approaching and for many electricity costs are higher than they have been for a decade,” Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said on Wednesday.

Wholesale gas prices, which have reached record levels in France, Spain, Germany and Italy, are expected to remain high throughout the winter. Prices are expected to fall in the spring, but remain above the average for previous years, according to the Commission. Most EU countries depend on gas-fired power plants to meet the demand for electricity, and around 40% of this gas comes from Russia, according to Eurostat.

Simson said the Commission’s initial assessment indicates that Russian company Gazprom has fulfilled its long-term contracts “while providing little or no additional supply”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that Russia had increased its gas supplies to Europe to the maximum level possible under existing contracts, but could not exceed those thresholds. “We can say that Russia fulfills all its contractual obligations perfectly,” he said.

Steps EU states can take to help consumers and businesses cope with soaring electricity costs include emergency household income support to help them pay their energy bills. , state aid to businesses and targeted tax cuts. Member States can also temporarily delay payment of bills and put in place processes to ensure that no one is disconnected from the network.

Green energy the solution

The Commission has also released a series of longer-term measures the bloc should consider to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and tackle energy price volatility.

“Our immediate priority is to protect European consumers, especially the most vulnerable,” said Simson. “Secondly, we want to make our energy system better prepared and more resilient, so that we do not have to face a similar situation in the future,” she added.

That would require accelerating the transition to green energy rather than slowing it down, Simson said. “We are not facing a surge in energy prices because of our climate policy or because renewables are expensive. We are facing it because the prices of fossil fuels are skyrocketing,” he said. she continued.

“The only long-term cure for demand shocks and price volatility is a transition to a green energy system.”

Simson said she will offer European leaders a package of measures to decarbonize the European gas and hydrogen markets by 2050. Other measures to improve the stability of the energy market could include the increasing gas storage capacity and purchasing gas jointly at EU level.

– Katharina Krebs contributed reporting.