The industry will be able to propose new gas and hydrogen infrastructure projects throughout the bloc under a proposed reform to the EU gas market
Under a proposal to reform the EU gas market, published Wednesday by the European Commission, the gas industry will continue to dominate EU decision making on energy infrastructure.
Brussels unveiled part two of a legislative overhaul to cut the bloc’s emissions by at least 55% between 1990 and 2030 and put it on track for 2050 climate neutrality.
The package of proposals includes a reform to the EU gas market that aims at integrating low-carbon gas such as hydrogen into its network. It creates a new market in hydrogen and a governance structure. Oil and gas operators must find and fix methane leaked, and it bans the venting and flaring greenhouse gases.
“Today’s proposals are designed to make sure that the role of natural gas in our energy system declines and that greener options like renewables, hydrogen, biomass and biogas increase,” EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson told a press conference.
But the gas industry gets a central role in deciding the future of the EU’s energy infrastructure, raising concerns about locking in polluting systems.
“This package was crucial to accelerate the transition towards a decarbonised energy system. Yet the Commission has ceded ground to industry polluters, giving them a chance to greenwash their fossil business and emissions,” said Patrick ten Brink, director of EU policy at the European Environmental Bureau.
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The Commission’s impact assessment for cutting emissions this decade found that gas consumption should reduce 32-37% between 2015 and 2030.
The proposal asks gas network operators to provide information about infrastructure that can either be decommissioned or repurposed. But the plan doesn’t include targets or milestones to end gas exploitation and downsize the infrastructure.
Simson said the plan “ensures a progressive phase out of fossil gas” but didn’t respond to questions from reporters about how much the share of gas would be decreased this decade.
Instead, she stated that stranded gas assets can be avoided by ensuring that deployment plans for electricity, gas, and hydrogen are based on a common demand scenario. Long-term contracts to import gas into the EU will not be extended beyond 2049 – a year before the EU is due to reach net zero emissions.
The proposal needs to be reviewed and approved by the member states and Parliament.
“The legislation is not opening the door for reducing gas consumption,” Raphael Hanoteaux, senior policy advisor on gas politics at E3G, told Climate Home News.
“A gas package that fails to deliver a phase out of fossil fuels is simply further hypocrisy in the face of a climate emergency that much of Europe is historically responsible for,” said Eilidh Robb, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.
Last month, The European Commission included an estimated €13 billion ($15bn) worth of gas projects in its list of priority infrastructure projects.
The proposed reform sees the gas industry retain a central role in deciding where and how to develop the EU’s gas infrastructure.
The European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (an industry body for national grid operators) is charged with recommending lists of pipelines or terminals that should all be built in the next ten years.
“The control that the gas industry has on decision-making for infrastructure across Europe has not changed,” said Robb. “If you continue to let the industry set the agenda, then you are going to continue to have gas.”
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The structure of a new governance system in the hydrogen market has been modeled on that for gas. The European Network of Network Operators for Hydrogen is promoting a dedicated hydrogen infrastructure as well as the construction of cross border networks. It is not planned to establish independent checks or involve a wider range of stakeholders in this process.
“It’s hard to see how this hydrogen network is not going to be completely decided by gas operators because there are dominating the sector at the moment,” said Hanoteaux.
“The EU is lacking overall cohesion on gas. The package is suggesting gas is on its way out but will be replaced by low-carbon gases which is problematic because it means the EU will still use gas and gas infrastructure for a long time,” he said.
Campaigners say these governance structures enshrine gas into Europe’s energy future, with the gas industry able to inflate the demand for hydrogen to justify the continued use of the fossil fuel to produce it.
The proposal allows for blending up to 5% of hydrogen into the gas supply – a practice which Hanoteaux said wastes scarce hydrogen that should be used to help decarbonise the most hard-to-abate sectors.
Source: Climate Change News