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ENERGY

Spain and Portugal present their ‘energy island’ plan for cutting electricity costs

Spain and Portugal on Thursday sent Brussels their joint proposal for lowering electricity prices in the Iberian peninsula to a maximum of €30 ($33) per megawatt hour, Spain’s ecology minister said.

Spain and Portugal present their 'energy island' plan for cutting electricity costs
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (L) and Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa speak ahead of a meeting as part of a European Union (EU) summit at EU Headquarters in Brussels on March 25th, 2022. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

The move came a week after the European Union agreed that Spain and Portugal could deviate from the bloc’s rules on energy pricing to ease the impact of energy prices on consumers.

Spain and Portugal are in a strategically advantageous position in that they’re not as dependent on Russian natural gas as many of their European neighbours, importing most of it from Algeria and other countries.

Spain is also the country with the largest gas storage and regasification capacity in Europe and together with Portugal is a renewable energy leader in terms of solar, hydraulic and wind power. Their energy markets are more self-sufficient and extremely well connected between both nations.

This has led the two countries that form the Iberian peninsula (as well as tiny Andorra) to be referred to as an “energy island” by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his Portuguese counterpart António Costa, as a simplified way of describing why their countries should be temporarily released from the EU’s common market rules.

The decision to grant Spain and Portugal “special treatment” came after their efforts to convince Brussels to decouple electricity prices from the gas market fell on deaf ears.

“We have a joint proposal… and we’re working with the European Commission” to push it through, Teresa Ribera told reporters.

The proposal involves capping the price of gas used for the generation of electricity to the equivalent of “€30 ($33)” per megawatt hour, she said.

Such a cap, which would significantly reduce the price of electricity on the wholesale market in both countries, “is one of the technical elements of the proposal we need to discuss with Brussels”, she said.

Prices are particularly high in the Iberian peninsula, with both Spain and Portugal heavily dependent on gas to produce electricity.

Prices have risen sharply in both countries in recent months due to the rules governing Europe’s electricity market which obliges producers to sell electricity on the wholesale markets at a price determined by the most expensive production costs — that of gas-fired power plants.

READ ALSO: Is Spain ready to be the EU’s main natural gas supplier?

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ENERGY

How war in Ukraine is reviving France-Spain MidCat gas pipeline project

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Madrid has revived calls to build a huge gas pipeline between Spain and France dubbed MidCat that would boost Europe's energy independence from Russia.

How war in Ukraine is reviving France-Spain MidCat gas pipeline project

What is MidCat?

Initially launched in 2003, the 190-kilometre (120-mile) Midi-Catalonia (MidCat) pipeline would pump gas across the Pyrenees from Hostalric just north of Barcelona to Barbaira in southern France.

Its aim was to transport gas from Algeria through Spain to the rest of the European Union. There are currently only two small gas pipelines linking Spain and France.

But following several years of work, the project was abandoned in 2019 after energy regulators from both countries rejected it amid questions over its environmental impact and profitability.

Why restart it?

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the EU has vowed to end its dependence on gas from Russia, which currently supplies nearly 40 percent of the bloc’s gas needs.

A 750-kilometre deepwater pipeline called Medgaz already links gas-rich Algeria with southern Spain.

A second underwater pipeline, called GME links Spain to Algeria via Morocco but Algiers in November shut supply through it due to a diplomatic conflict with Rabat.

Spain also has six terminals for regasifying and storing liquefied natural gas (LNG) transported by sea, the largest network in Europe.

Gas which arrives in Spain by sea and pipeline from Algeria could then be sent on to the rest of Europe though MidCat.

The MidCat pipeline is “crucial” to reduce the EU’s reliance on fossil fuels and “end the Kremlin’s blackmail”, EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Friday in Barcelona in a reference to Russia’s threats to halt its gas supplies to the bloc.

Map: European Commission

What are the obstacles?

The MidCat pipeline faces several hurdles, starting with its huge price tag estimated in 2018 at €440 million ($460 million). It would also take three to four years to complete.

“MidCat cannot be approached as a short-term solution,” France’s ambassador to Spain, Jean-Michel Casa, said during an interview with Barcelona-based daily newspaper La Vanguadia in March.

In addition, there is a lack of connections between France and Germany, the country which is most interested in finding alternatives to Russian gas.

It would be “much simpler to bring gas directly by boat to Germany,” said Thierry Bros, an energy expert at the Science Po university in Paris.

“This would of course require building gas terminals in Germany” but their cost would not be higher than building MidCat, he told AFP.

How much support does MidCat have?

Despite the debate over its usefulness, MidCat enjoys significant support, especially in Spain where the authorities are pushing for Brussels to declare the project to be of “community interest”.

France has so far been more reserved but according to Madrid this position is changing.

There is a new “perception of the risks and opportunities” that MidCat brings, Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said, adding Paris “has understood” that Midcat “must” be built.

There are also questions over the financing for the project.

Madrid argues Brussels should foot the bill, not Spanish taxpayers, because the project would benefit the entire EU.

But the European commission has not yet committed to funding it.

Spain also wants the pipeline to be compatible with the transport of green hydrogen, in the hopes this will boost its appeal to Brussels which has made financing renewable energy projects a priority.

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