Five regasification plants and five gas pipelines between the Iberian Peninsula and Italy are among the plans to transport fossil gas to the European Union. At a crucial time to address the climate emergency, these institutions are continuing to rely on fossil fuels.
One of these pipelines is a potential liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline set to connect Livorno with Barcelona. Livorno is Italy’s third largest commercial port - after Trieste and Genoa. Trade has flowed through its docks for hundreds of years, from a long-established fishing industry to newer cruise ships carrying thousands of tourists.
This pipeline is being heralded by its supporters as a potential route for LNG initially imported into Spain to reach the wider European market. It would be the highest capacity pipeline in Europe, capable of transporting 17 billion cubic metres of gas.
A ‘virtual’ gas pipeline is also being proposed, making use of a Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) - a large boat which stores LNG before it is transferred to the mainland - already anchored outside Livorno. Both the Spanish and Italian companies responsible for gas infrastructure (Enagas in Spain and Snam in Italy) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the pipeline, with feasibility studies being carried out.
This is far from the only fossil gas project proposed in response to Europe’s energy crisis. Similar FSRUs are also planned in Italy. Snam have purchased an FSRU anchored in Piombino capable of storing 5 billion cubic metres of LNG and a similar boat is being acquired for Ravenna on the Adriatic coast.
The proposal to route a gas pipeline from Spain to Italy is also in part an attempt to pressure France into backing the MidCat gas pipeline - a previously mothballed third connection between France and Spain’s gas networks. The pipeline was first proposed over a decade ago, and a 90km section has already been built in Catalonia.
Construction came to a standstill in January 2019 when the Spanish and French energy regulators rejected a request for additional investment by Enagás and Teréga - the two main promoters. Regulators pulled the plug after concluding that MidCat would increase energy bills and that the costs would outway the benefits for consumers.
The attempt to resurrect MidCat has not gone unnoticed. Catalans have reformed the Plataforma Resposta al MidCat platform, which was ultimately successful in stopping construction of the pipeline in 2019. However, both German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez voiced their continued support for the project at a Spanish-German summit last Wednesday (5 October).
No U-turn on EU renewable investments
Europe was already moving towards renewables to combat the climate emergency before the energy crisis kicked in. It is not possible to switch focus back to new gas infrastructure now while honouring the EU’s climate objectives, and would not be sensible either. It will be years before any new gas projects receiving the green-light today become operational, and Europe is already able to meet its most important energy needs for the upcoming winters.
This new splurge in fossil gas spending is being enabled by the European Commission’s REPowerEU plan. In theory, the plan aims to switch Europe to more reliable energy sources and to eventually end its dependence on Russian fossil fuel imports after its hostile invasion of Ukraine.
The EU currently imports the vast majority of fossil fuels it uses from outside the bloc. Over 40 percent of its imported gas, 46 percent of imported coal and 27 percent of imported oil come from Russia.
Breaking this dependence is no trivial matter, yet RePowerEU goes even further. It rewrites the EU’s role in an already rapidly changing world, starting with energy.
REPowerEU sidelining EU climate goals
REPowerEU does this by sidelining other EU policies such as the European Green Deal or the ‘Fit for 55’ plan to transition to a greener economy. It diverts funding from the NextGenerationEU pandemic recovery fund to support a total rush for gas projects like the pipeline connecting Livorno and Barcelona. The goalposts have moved - what were once plans to green Europe’s energy system have switched primarily to securing it at increasing cost to the environment.
On top of the promised €245 billion made available from the European Green Deal, Fit for 55 package and NextGenerationEU, REPowerEU dangerously proposes to use almost €40 billion from other existing public funding streams and measures at EU level. All of these instruments could be mobilised to finance new renewable energy to reduce dependence on Russia, rather than damaging fossil fuel infrastructure which will accelerate the climate crisis.
It will be years before any gas travels through a pipeline between Livorno and Barcelona - if any ever does - yet the risk of a construction boom locking Europe into burning gas for decades is very real. European taxpayers would be paying for this lock-in, the same taxpayers currently struggling to pay their energy bills. EU institutions continue to pitch new gas infrastructure as a long-term, sustainable option. We are afraid that it is not.