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    Brussels spells out plan to end dependence on Russian energy

    The European Commission on Wednesday presented its €300 billion plan on how the EU can wean itself from Russian fossil fuels “well before 2030.”

    It’s a consequence of the Kremlin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, which highlighted the political and economic risks of relying on Russian oil and gas.

    The response aims to immediately hunt for alternative sources of fossil fuels while also boosting green energy and cutting energy use — the latter goals feeding into the bloc’s long-term ambition to become climate neutral by 2050.

    The plan, called REPowerEU, is a package of documents, including legal acts, recommendations, guidelines and strategies, that fleshes out a communication published in March. It’s based on four pillars: saving energy, substituting Russian gas with other fossil fuels, boosting green energy and financing new infrastructure like pipelines and liquefied natural gas terminals.

    “Today we’re taking our ambition to yet another level to make sure that we’ll be independent of Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible,” said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “REPowerEU will help us to save more energy, to accelerate phasing out of fossil fuel and most importantly to kick start investment on a new scale. This will be the speed charging of our European Green Deal.”

    A rapid shift away from Russian energy could hit the bloc’s economies, so the Commission says member countries can temporarily extend power price controls to protect consumers and businesses and also jointly buy natural gas.

    “As Russia pursues its unprovoked war in Ukraine, we must also plan for gas supply disruptions and their impact with solidarity measures and possible price interventions,” said Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson.

    The Commission wants to raise the target of green power in the EU’s energy mix to 45 percent by 2030 from its current target of 40 percent. It’s planning to do that by, for example, simplifying permitting processes for renewable energy projects — one of the main challenges faced by the industry — and introducing a legal obligation to install solar panels on all new residential buildings by 2029. 

    This year, Brussels said the bloc can replace 60 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Russian gas — last year it imported 155 bcm. That will be done by buying gas from other suppliers like the U.S., Egypt, Israel and Gulf countries, producing more biomethane — made from animal manure, crops and waste — and having coal and nuclear plants run longer hours.

    By 2030, the hope is that 35 bcm of biomethane and 20 million tons of hydrogen will be on the market for the EU to use as well.

    The Commission also wants to boost the bloc’s 2030 binding energy savings target to 13 percent from 9 percent and to cut oil and gas demand by 5 percent by getting people to use less energy.

    Simone Tagliapetra, senior fellow at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, said that since September 2021, countries like Germany, France, Italy and Spain have each spent €20 billion to €30 billion to artificially lower gas and electricity bills, and gasoline and diesel prices.

    “Will governments finally switch from universal energy subsidies, to targeted measures for poor households and vulnerable small and medium companies, and will they have the courage to ask all others to consume less energy?” he asked.

    The cash for REPowerEU will come largely from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility, the bloc’s pandemic recovery program. The Commission said countries can access the unused €225 billion in facility loans. An additional €20 billion in grants would come from selling 250 million CO2 emission permits on the EU’s Emissions Trading System. Countries will also have the right to transfer up to 12.5 percent of their cohesion policy funds and 7.5 percent of agricultural funds to RePowerEU projects.

    Member countries should update their recovery programs to add a chapter on ditching Russian energy.

    The money will go for everything from boosting energy efficiency to building cross-border electricity and gas connectors and training workers in green technologies.

    Iberdrola, the EU’s second-largest utility which has gone hard for renewables, said the Commission’s goals are achievable.

    “We stand ready to make this plan a reality, as quickly as member states can translate the proposals into clear policies backed by stable regulation across the EU,” said CEO Ignacio Galán in a statement.

    The project got mixed reviews from climate campaigners.

    “REPowerEU contains useful and necessary strides towards renewable solutions but it simultaneously enables almost 50 fossil fuel infrastructure projects and expansions,” said Eilidh Robb, anti-fossil fuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. “Overall, these plans will replace one dirty dependency with another and waste time we don’t have.”

    This article has been updated with reactions.

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