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Energy 13 July, 2020 12:00 pm   
Editorial staff

Buzek: Security of supply pertains to hydrogen as well (INTERVIEW)

“We didn’t tighten the security of natural gas supply to ignore this issue with regard to hydrogen,” professor Jerzy Buzek, former prime minister, former President of the European Parliament and current member of the ITRE Committee in the EP, says in an interview with BiznesAlert.pl.

BiznesAlert.pl: What are the various opinions on the natural gas sector in the European Union? Why not everybody is on board with Poland’s position that it should contribute to energy transition?

Jerzy Buzek: Those concerns pertain to the role of gas as the so-called transition fuel that will support the transition from high emission power industry based on coal to a zero emission power and heat generation system based mostly on renewable energy sources (RES). The opponents of gas claim that this fossil fuel is not much better than coal, and is mostly imported from outside of the European Union, often from countries with questionable reputation, that sometimes use our dependence as a political weapon. Other concerns are related to the fact that new investments in natural gas will make it impossible for the EU to achieve the climate neutrality goal in 2050. However, a reverse approach to the issue is also present: some countries and regions whose energy security is mostly dependant on coal, will not be able to achieve that goal without at least a temporary increase in natural gas consumption. This view is shared by Poland.

Why isn’t it supported by everybody? This question should be answered by Poland’s government, which has been on the defense on this issue for months now and has allowed for actions that go completely against Poland’s interests. First, they failed to prevent the European Investment Bank from adopting a policy that excludes gas investments from receiving financial support. And a few days ago they again revealed their complete helplessness in the EU Council, when member states decided to exclude these kinds of projects from the Just Transition Fund. We were abandoned not only by Romanians and Bulgarians, but also by Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Croatians and Lithuanians. This is what the Three Seas Initiative promoted by president Duda looks like in reality.

What role will be played by natural gas in Central and Eastern Europe’s energy transition? What is its impact on the plans to develop the hydrogen industry on the continent?

It plays an important role in the gradual and cost-efficient phase-out of coal. And this isn’t only about radically lower emissions of CO2, even by 60 percent, which are so important for the fight against global warming. Gas, which is used in efficient heating systems, may also significantly speed up the departure from individual heating solutions based on coal – the main culprits responsible for smog in our cities and rural areas. At the same time, it may significantly contribute to decreasing energy poverty. All of these arguments were used by me, as the rapporteur of the ITRE Committee, to convince my colleagues from the EP to support my proposition to allow gas investments to be financed from the Just Transition Fund. Let me remind everybody that only in the coming years Poland stands to receive at least PLN 35 billion from the Fund.

Importantly, and this is the answer to your second question – new gas infrastructure should be also technically able to transmit hydrogen in the future. Today its development is too often hindered by the dilemma “the chicken or the egg”: the operators claim that developing the necessary infrastructure does not pay off because the demand is too low, whereas potential producers of hydrogen reply that the demand will not increase until the essential infrastructure is built. Which is why the support from EU mechanisms, including the Just Transition Fund, is imperative.

Will security of supply impact the transition to renewable gas?

This argument does come up in discussions and it is difficult to disregard it. We already know that domestic production is the safest and most secure energy supply, not imports from abroad. And this pertains to gas as well as coal, whose imports to, e.g. Poland from Russia, have recently dramatically increased. In this sense domestic renewable gas is undeniably at an advantage.

On the other hand, thanks to our deliberate and firm actions, the security of supply in the European Union is currently incomparably better than just a few years back. The European Energy Community, and later on the Energy Union; two resolutions on the security of gas supply; imposing EU antitrust regulations on all new import gas pipelines, including Nord Stream 2; the LNG development strategy and its import from, among others, the United States; diversification of gas supply thanks to new cross-border interconnectors – we managed to achieve all of these. At the same time, we need to remember that the majority of those propositions came from Poland. Contrary to what some prominent politicians from the current government claim, Brussels is able to consider these ideas, we just need to have strong arguments, be open to discussions and able to forge alliances.

Will ITRE take up the issue of hydrogen security of supply and the role of Russia in Europe’s energy transition?

Definitely. Next week the Committee will meet with Kadri Simson, the Commissioner for Energy, with whom we will discuss the new hydrogen strategy published by the European Commission last Wednesday. And next Thursday we will host Peter Altmaier – Germany’s economy and energy minister. I am convinced that on both meetings there will be questions on Nord Stream 2 and attempts at justifying its construction with the necessity to develop the EU’s hydrogen market. Like I said, we did not tighten the security of natural gas supply to disregard this issue in the context of hydrogen supply today. Energy transition – yes, as quickly as possible; but never at the cost of energy security.

Interview by Wojciech Jakóbik