Spain’s parliament approves energy saving plan

Spain's parliament on Thursday approved the minority government's energy-saving rules which include limits on air-conditioning use as part of an EU-wide effort to reduce reliance on Russian gas.

spain energy saving law
Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said "common sense" has prevailed regarding the energy bill. (Photo by Rodrigo BUENDIA / AFP)

Lawmakers voted 187 to 161 in favour of the decree, which came into effect on August 10 but needed the green light of the assembly to remain in force.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s minority coalition government lacks a working majority in parliament but it managed to pass the rules with the support of smaller regional parties.

“Common sense, healthy politics and policies that defend the general interest triumphed today in parliament,” Sánchez told a press conference in Quito where he was on an official visit after the vote.

Under the government decree, air conditioning must be turned down and set at no lower than 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) during the warmest months of the year, in rules affecting everything from public transport to shops, offices, theatres and cinemas.

The new rules do not apply to home air conditioning, although people are encouraged to consume less energy domestically.

During the summer months, temperatures across Spain often hit 40C or higher.

The legislation also affects heating in winter, when temperatures can be set no higher than 19C.

The decree also requires that from 10:00 pm (2000 GMT), shops switch off window-display lighting in a move also affecting the illumination of public buildings.

By the end of September, any air-conditioned or heated premises must have an automatic door-closing mechanism installed to avoid energy waste.

The main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) voted against the measures, calling many of them “improvised” and harmful for the economy.

It also complains the new rules were developed without business groups or regional governments which will have to monitor compliance.

Among the most critical has been Madrid’s regional leader Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a rising star on the political right who has vowed to challenge the measures in Spain’s Constitutional Court.

“Madrid will not switch off,” she said earlier this month in a tweet.

The government unveiled details of the energy saving measures in May as part of an EU-wide effort to cut dependence on Russia for oil and gas following its February invasion of Ukraine.

The European Commission is planning to cut EU dependency on Russian gas by two-thirds this year and end its reliance on Russian supplies of the fuel before 2030.

Spain barely uses Russian gas itself, but by reducing energy use the government hopes to free up gas Madrid normally buys from countries other than Russia for nations trying to wean themselves off Russian supplies.

The measures show Spain’s “commitment and solidarity with our European partners in the face of the energy blackmail” from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

To boost the chances that parliament would back the energy saving measures, they were included in an omnibus bill which included other popular measures such as free commuter rail travel.

All commuter trains run by national rail operator Renfe will be free for four months from September 1st to help people cope with rising fuel prices.

Some 400,000 people have already signed up for the free travel pass, the government said Thursday.

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Barcelona-Marseille pipeline: an ambitious but risky project

A planned underwater hydrogen pipeline connecting Barcelona and Marseille is a risky project, but one that is key for the European Union's energy independence.

Barcelona-Marseille pipeline: an ambitious but risky project

Here’s what we know about the joint initiative by Madrid, Lisbon and Paris, which will be discussed on Friday December 9th on the sidelines of a summit of southern European Union nations in Spain.

What is it?

Dubbed “H2Med” or “BarMar” (from Barcelona and Marseille), the pipeline will connect the two ports that both have large oil and gas terminals, initially as a conduit for natural gas and later for green hydrogen, between Spain, France and the rest of Europe.

Announced at an EU summit in October, it offers an alternative to the defunct MidCat pipeline project launched in 2003 to carry gas across the Pyrenees from Spain to France that was eventually abandoned over profitability issues and objections from Paris and environmentalists.

What are its goals?

The pipeline aims to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy by improving gas interconnections between the Iberian Peninsula and its neighbours.

Spain and Portugal account for 40 percent of Europe’s capacity to turn liquefied natural gas (LNG) that arrives in tankers back into gas form, but they are poorly connected to the rest of Europe.

The pipeline will also boost the decarbonisation of European industry, giving it access to clean energy on a large scale which Spain and Portugal hope to produce.

The two nations aim to become world leaders in green hydrogen thanks to their numerous wind and solar power farms.

Why Barcelona and Marseille?

According to the project’s backers, it is “the most direct and efficient way of linking the peninsula with central Europe”.

Barcelona “has one of the largest re-gasification plants in Europe” and occupies “a central place in Spain’s gas network,” said José Ignacio Linares, a professor at Madrid’s Pontificia Comillas University.

Marseille is also a key point in the French network and a gateway to the Rhone Valley, northern Italy and Germany – industrial regions that could become big consumers of green hydrogen.

What route will it take?

The route has not yet been decided, but “the most logical” option would be to run close to the shore to avoid deep waters, Linares told AFP. If that’s the case, H2Med would extend some 450 kilometres (280 miles).

When will it be ready?

French Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told Spain’s El País daily the pipeline could come online in 2030, while her Spanish counterpart Teresa Ribera said it could enter service in “five, six or seven years”.

How much will it cost?

The cost of the project has not been revealed. But the European Hydrogen Backbone (EHB), that groups European energy pipeline operators, estimates a two-billion-euro price tag.

Madrid, Paris and Lisbon hope much of the project will be covered by EU funds.

What are the obstacles?

“An offshore hydrogen pipeline at this depth and distance has never been done before,” said Gonzalo Escribano, an energy expert at Madrid’s Real Instituto Elcano think tank.

The innovative project faces certain technical challenges. One of the main problems is that hydrogen is made up of small molecules which can escape through the joints and cause corrosion, said Linares, an
engineer by training.

But such problems could be overcome by “installing a membrane inside (the pipeline), a kind of plastic that prevents the hydrogen from escaping,” he said.

What’s the outlook?

The biggest risk is its economic viability, experts say.

“It is not clear when the green hydrogen market is going to take off and whether Spain will be in a position to produce enough to export it,” said Escribano.

But Linares said its construction would take so long “that we can’t afford to wait”. “If we do, we’ll end up with a huge volume of hydrogen that we won’t be able to export.”