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EU plans renewables expansion, says coal needed a little while longer

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Lower Saxony in Germany, with a wind turbine and some coal. Because the EU wants to get rid of Russian hydrocarbons it will need fossil fuels from elsewhere in order to fill supply gaps.

Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

European Commission has outlined details for a plan to increase the EU’s ability to generate renewable energy and decrease its dependence on Russian fossilfuels. It also acknowledged that coal resources may need to be utilized “longer than expected.”

On Wednesday, a document from the Commission outlining its aims for REPowerEU was released. It highlighted the importance of energy saving, diversification of imports, and speeding up “Europe’s clean-energy transition”.

The total amount of investment it envisions is 210billion euros (220.87 billion), between 2022-2027. In terms of renewables, the Commission proposed increasing the target of 40% to 45% for 2030.

These proposals were made by the Commission on the exact same day as the government of Belgium, Germany and Denmark announced that they would set a collective target to reach at least 65 gigawatts in offshore wind capacity. They are targeting 150 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by the end of this century.

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It is difficult to see the future of fossil fuels. Russia was last year’s largest source of oil and natural gas for the EU. according to Eurostat.

The EU’s desire to wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons following the latter’s invasion of Ukraine means it will need to find oil and gas from other parts of the world to plug supply gaps.

To ensure an adequate supply of oil, the Commission stated that 1.5-2 billion euros in investment is required. A total of 10 billion euros is needed to buy enough natural gas liquefied and gas pipelines from other sources by 2030.

The EU wants to become carbon neutral by 2050. All of this comes as a result. The EU is calling its “Fit for 55”, a plan to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at most 55% over the next five years.

REPOWEREU was deemed unworkable by the Commission without “a rapid implementation of all Fit For 55 proposals, and greater targets for renewables or energy efficiency.”

The new reality would see gas consumption decrease in the EU at a quicker pace and reduce the use of gas as transitional fuel, the Commission stated.

It stated that “Shifting away from Russian fossil fuels requires targeted investments to secure supply of gas infrastructure, very limited modifications to oil infrastructure, and large-scale investments into the electricity grid as well as an EU-wide hydrogen backbone.”

According to the Commission, “In paralel, some of the coal resources might be used more than originally expected. There is also a role for domestic gas resources and nuclear power.”

During a press conference on Wednesday the EU’s climate chief, Frans Timmermans, admitted that using less natural gas in a transitional phase would mean “you might use coal a bit longer — that has a negative impact on your emissions.”

“But if at the same time, as we propose, you rapidly speed up the introduction of renewables — solar, wind, biomethane — you then have the opposite movement,” he said.

Timmermans is executive vice president of the European Commission for the European Green Deal. He stressed the need to find a compromise.

“If we can actually do what I say — reduce our energy consumption in combination with a speedier introduction of renewables — we will bring down our emissions even quicker than before,” he said.

“And then, of course we will have slightly higher emissions if people stick a bit longer to coal, but we need to strike the balance so that, on balance, we do not increase our emissions — we hopefully even decrease them more.”

The environment has been severely affected by coal, Greenpeace says it is “the dirtiest and most polluting method of producing energy.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration also lists various emissions from coal combustion. These include carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide as well as particulates, as well nitrogen oxides.

A number of environmental groups were critical of the European Commission’s announcement.

“These plans are supposed to fast-track the clean energy transition — but the European Commission’s latest strategy gives with one hand and takes with the other,” Eilidh Robb, an anti-fossil fuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said.

Robb stated that the so-called REPowerEU makes useful, necessary steps towards renewable solutions and simultaneously allows almost 50 expansions and projects to be made in fossil fuel infrastructure.

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