EC proposes new energy package

The European Commission (EC) has put forward an ambitious plan, envisioning measures aimed at boosting EU energy security and efficiency and reducing the 27-nation bloc’s dependence on oil and gas imports from Russia.

Currently, the EU relies on foreign sources to secure almost 54% of its energy needs. It imports 61% of its gas, 42% of it from Russia. With indigenous gas production expected to continue to decline, the EC estimates that gas imports will increase to 73% by 2020.

At this year’s prices, energy imports represent an estimated 350 billion euros, the commission said in its Second Strategic Energy Review, released on November 13th. This amount translates to about 700 euros per year for every EU citizen, it noted. Presenting the package, EC President Jose Manuel Barroso stressed that last year alone, energy prices went up by an average of 15% within the 27-nation bloc.

"We must break the vicious energy cycle of increased energy consumption and increased imports," he said.

The fact that eight EU states are totally dependent on Russia for their gas is a problem the Union must address, according to Barroso. "We must shield European citizens from the risks that external suppliers cannot honour their commitments," the EC president said.

A gas price dispute between Russia and Ukraine caused a brief disruption of gas supplies to some EU states in the winter of 2006, prompting calls for the bloc to move towards a greater diversification of energy sources and supply routes. The conflict in the Caucusus in August undermined further Europe’s confidence in the reliability of Russian supplies.

The EU must take urgent measures to increase its energy efficiency and reduce its dependence on imports, Barroso said, calling on member nations to agree to the EC’s new proposals. "We have to invest and diversify," he said.


The EU currently imports much of its gas from Russia. [File]

In the plan, the EC stressed the need for a stronger focus on the bloc’s infrastructure needs and the diversification of energy supplies, an increase of oil and gas stocks, the establishment of crisis response mechanisms to respond to possible gas disruptions, better use of indigenous energy resources and stronger efforts to improve energy efficiency.

The first priority of the Strategic Energy Review package is to adopt and implement the measures that will help the bloc meet its so-called 20-20-20 climate change targets, according to an EC statement.

The EU’s goal is to reach a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20% share of wind, solar and other renewable sources in final energy consumption and a 20% increase in energy efficiency, all by 2020.

"In order to meet the EU’s 20-20-20 objectives in a manner guaranteeing electricity and gas supply to all the EU’s citizens, major changes in the EU’s internal energy infrastructure will be necessary over the coming years and decades," the EC statement said.

The review outlined six strategic projects as essential for the EU’s energy security: a Baltic Interconnection Plan, a southern gas corridor, a Mediterranean energy ring, adequate North-South gas and electricity interconnections with Central and Southeast Europe, a North Sea offshore grid and effective liquefied natural gas supplies for Europe.

If the member states’ governments and the European Parliament agree to the package, the development of the proposed Baltic Interconnection Plan will begin next year. Covering gas, electricity and storage, the project will connect the networks of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with the rest of the EU. The three Baltic nations are currently connected to the Russian energy networks and are among the bloc’s eight members that get 100% of their gas from Russia.

Describing the southern gas corridor as "one of the EU’s highest energy security priorities", the EC said the project would include the construction of the pipelines necessary to transport supplies from Caspian and Middle Eastern sources, bypassing Russia.

The Mediterranean energy ring designed to link Europe with the Southern Mediterranean through electricity and gas interconnections "now needs to be completed", said the EC, noting the project’s importance for the development of the region’s "vast solar and wind energy potential".


By choosing better tyres, consumers could see their petrol bills drop by up to 10%, the commission says. [Getty Images]

The EU executive arm also called for the development of a a Blueprint for a North Sea offshore grid to interconnect the national electricity grids of countries in Northwest Europe and plug-in the numerous planned offshore wind projects. Together with the Baltic interconnection project and the Mediterranean ring, it should become "one of the building blocks of a future European supergrid", the EC said.

Vowing to use its existing instruments to make rapid progress on the six projects, it also noted that all parties involved would have to make considerable efforts to mobilise the needed funding for their implementation, including from entities from third countries.

"This work appears as a key element of the EU response to the current financial crisis and thus should be accelerated … inter alia to support employment and contribute to offsetting the fall in demand," the Commission said.

It also tabled a set of new energy efficiency proposals, including for a revision of the bloc’s legislation on the energy efficiency of buildings and energy-using products. The EC wants new efficiency standards to be introduced for all new buildings and existing buildings undergoing a major renovation, arguing that this could contribute to energy savings of 5% to 6% by 2020.

It called for the inclusion of a broader range of energy-using products – not only household appliances – in the bloc’s rules on energy labelling. Under a separate legal instrument, a new energy label will be introduced for car tyres, grading them for their fuel efficiency. By choosing better tyres, consumers could see their petrol bills drop by up to 10%, the commission believes.

It is also planning to adopt minimum requirements for light bulbs, street and office lighting equipment and other electrical devices, as well to table a proposal to bring the bloc’s Energy Tax Directive fully in line with its energy and climate change goals.

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