3/19/14, "European leaders seek ways to curb dependence on Russian gas," Reuters, Barbara Lewis, Brussels
"EU will tell Kiev it can supply Ukraine with gas
* U.S. could relax controls on energy exports, officials say
* Campaigners say Ukraine shows need for tougher green goal
* No deal expected yet on climate and energy policy
"European leaders will seek
ways to cut their multi-billion-dollar dependence on Russian gas
at talks in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, while stopping
short of severing energy ties with Moscow for now.
Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region has revived
doubts about whether the European Union should continue to rely
on Russia for nearly a third of its gas, providing Gazprom
with an average of $5 billion per month in revenues.
Some 40 percent of that gas is shipped via Ukraine.
EU powerhouse Germany is among those with particularly close
energy links to Russia and has echoed comments from Gazprom,
Russia's top natural gas producer, that Russia has been a
reliable supplier for decades.
Russian supplies of gas to the European Union were disrupted
in 2006 and 2009, but only because of knock-on effects when
Moscow cut off Ukraine for not paying its bills. Although those
incidents resulted in EU attempts to diversify its energy
sources, contracts to the bloc have always been honoured.
EU officials said the current Ukraine crisis, however, had
convinced many in Europe that Russia was no longer reliable and
the political will to end its supply dominance had never been
"Everyone recognises a major change of pace is needed on the
part of the European Union," one EU official said on condition
"At the back of people's minds, there will always be the
doubt that if the relationship goes sour, Russia has that weapon and it's not something it should have," another official said,
referring to Russia's option of severing supplies.
As alternatives to imported gas, the Brussels talks will
debate the European Union's "indigenous supplies", which include
renewable energy and shale gas.
They will also underline the need for energy efficiency and
to build better cross-border links to share resources, control
costs and develop EU capacity to pump gas to Ukraine.
Debate is also under way, ahead of a visit by U.S. President
Barack Obama to Brussels next week, on how much U.S. gas could
be shipped to Europe. For the shorter term,
officials said Qatar
could increase shipments.
Member states are expected to pledge to provide Ukraine with
gas if needed, but are unlikely to give details on how much
could be available, EU diplomats said.
They also said Denmark had proposed that the European
Commission, the EU executive, report by June on what can be done
to shore up EU energy security and that the idea had wide
Keen to underline its continued relevance, Gazprom last week
issued a statement to mark the 40th anniversary of supplying
Russian gas to Germany under long-term contracts to utility E.ON
. Russian gas is sent
directly to Germany via the Nord
specifically built to bypass Ukraine.
E.ON is among the utilities whose business models have been
shaken by an EU shift to green energy. The company says the grid
needs gas-fired generation to balance intermittent solar and
One of the many questions is the extent to which indigenous
shale gas can replace imports.
The signs so far are that public opposition and Europe's
different geology mean it cannot match the United States' shale
gas revolution, which has lowered energy costs there. Even in
the oil and gas industry, many are cautious about the prospects
for EU shale gas.
That leaves EU industry smarting at what it sees as a
competitive disadvantage, when the Ukraine crisis is likely to
inflate energy prices further. It is seeking help for
energy-intensive industry to manage costs, which it says have
been driven up by subsidies to increase the share of green
The renewables lobby says the real driver of energy costs is
imported fossil fuels, on which Europe spends more than 400
billion euros ($557 billion) per year.
"The EU is criticising Russia's invasion of Crimea while
pouring money into Russian coffers for gas imports," said Thomas
Becker, CEO of the European Wind Energy Association, which is
calling for a tougher goal on use of renewable energy.
But as coal-dependent Poland for one opposes an early
agreement on 2030 climate and energy policy,
this week's talks
are not expected to get anywhere near a deal on that.
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said only that the
talks should send "a strong signal". A draft summit document
says the bloc has to submit its contribution to the United
Nations on tackling climate change by the first quarter of 2015.
That will disappoint those who say a framework is urgently
needed to drive investment in low-carbon energy and to reduce
fossil fuel imports, as well as to settle the EU negotiating
position ahead of a U.N. climate change deal meant to be sealed
late next year.
So far, the European Commission has suggested 2030 policy
should include a 27 percent EU-wide goal for renewables as a
proportion of energy use and a 40 percent cut in carbon
emissions versus 1990 levels.
That compares with an existing target to cut carbon by 20
percent by 2020, which the European Union has almost achieved,
as well as a goal, binding on each member state, to get 20
percent of energy from renewables, which is also within reach."
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