EU plans renewable expansion, coal needs more time

A wind turbine and coal in Lower Saxony, Germany. The European Union’s desire to rid itself of Russian hydrocarbons means finding fossil fuels from other parts of the world to plug supply gaps.

Mia Butcher | Photo Alliance | Getty Images

The European Commission has detailed plans to increase the European Union’s renewable energy capacity and reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels, while acknowledging that existing coal facilities may have to be used “more than initially expected”.

A document outlining the commission’s goals for the REPowerEU plan was released Wednesday, highlighting the importance of energy conservation, diversifying energy imports and accelerating what it calls “Europe’s clean energy transition.”

In total, it plans to invest an additional 210 billion euros ($ 220.87 billion) between 2022 and 2027. When it comes to the renewable share of the EU’s energy mix, the commission has proposed that the current target should be increased by 40% by 2030. 45%.

The commission’s proposals come a day after the governments of Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium said they would set a combined target of at least 65 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030. By the middle of the century, they were targeting 150 gigawatts of capacity.

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On the fossil fuel front, the situation is challenging. According to Eurostat, Russia was the largest supplier of both petroleum oil and natural gas to the EU last year.

The EU’s desire to free itself from Russian hydrocarbons after the Ukrainian invasion means finding oil and gas from other parts of the world to plug supply gaps.

The commission said that investing 1.5 to 2 billion euros would be needed to secure oil supplies. To import sufficient liquefied natural gas and pipeline gas from other sources, approximately 10 billion euros will be needed by 2030.

All of the above comes at a time when the EU has said it wants to be carbon neutral by 2050. In the medium term, the net aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, for what the EU calls its “Fit 55” plan.

The commission said REPowerEU could not operate without “rapid implementation of all fits for 55 proposals and higher targets for renewable and energy efficiency”.

In this new reality, the use of gas in the EU will “decrease rapidly, limiting the role of gas as a transitional fuel,” the commission said.

“However, moving away from Russian fossil fuels would require targeted investment in gas infrastructure to secure supplies and large investments in the power grid, as well as very limited changes in oil infrastructure and a EU-wide hydrogen backbone,” it added.

“In parallel, some existing coal capacity could be used longer than initially expected, with nuclear energy and domestic gas resources also playing a role,” the commission said.

During a press conference on Wednesday, the EU’s climate chief, France Timmermans, acknowledged that using less natural gas at a transitional level means “you can use coal a little longer – it has a negative effect on your emissions.”

“But at the same time, if we propose that you speed up the introduction of renewables – solar, wind, biomethane – you will have the opposite movement,” he said.

Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission for the European Green Pact, emphasized the importance of finding a middle ground.

“If we can really do what I say – together with the rapid introduction of renewables to reduce our energy costs – we will reduce our emissions faster than ever before,” he said.

“And then, if people spend a little more time with coal, we will definitely have a little more emissions, but we have to keep a balance so that we can’t increase our emissions while maintaining a balance – we hope to reduce it further.”

Coal has a significant impact on the environment, with Greenpeace describing it as “the dirtiest, most polluting way to generate energy.”

Elsewhere, the U.S. Energy Information Administration lists a range of emissions from coal burning, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particles, and nitrogen oxides.

The European Commission’s announcement has drawn criticism from several environmental organizations.

“These plans are supposed to quickly-track clean energy transfers – but the European Commission’s latest strategy is in one hand and in the other,” said Ilid Robb, anti-fossil energy advocate for Friends of the Earth Europe.

“The so-called REPowerEU has useful and necessary steps toward a renewable solution, but it also enables about 50 fossil fuel infrastructure projects and expansion at the same time,” Robb said.

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