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Spain and Portugal reject EU plan to limit natural gas use

Operators work at the Enagss regasification plant, the largest LNG plant in Europe, in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, March 29, 2022. The European Union’s plan to reduce the bloc’s gas use by 15% to prepare for a potential cutoff by Russia this winter has been met with sharp skepticism by Spain and Portugal. Madrid and Lisbon said they would not support the initiative announced by European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (Emilio Morenatti/AP/PA)
Operators work at the Enagss regasification plant, the largest LNG plant in Europe, in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, March 29, 2022. The European Union’s plan to reduce the bloc’s gas use by 15% to prepare for a potential cutoff by Russia this winter has been met with sharp skepticism by Spain and Portugal. Madrid and Lisbon said they would not support the initiative announced by European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (Emilio Morenatti/AP/PA)

The European Union’s plan to reduce the bloc’s natural gas use by 15% to prepare for a potential cut-off by Russia this winter has received sharp scepticism from Spain and Portugal.

On Thursday the governments in Madrid and Lisbon said they would not support the initiative announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday.

The proposal would start with voluntary reductions, but the EU’s head office also wants the power to make 15% savings mandatory in the event of an EU-wide energy emergency.

Spain and Portugal said making reductions obligatory was a non-starter. They noted that there are scant energy connections linking them to the rest of Europe and that they use very little Russian gas compared with fellow EU members such as Germany and Italy.

“We will defend European values, but we won’t accept a sacrifice regarding an issue that we have not even been allowed to give our opinion on,” Spanish ecological transition minister Teresa Ribera said.

“No matter what happens, Spanish families won’t suffer cuts to gas or to the electricity to their homes,” she said. “(The measure) would serve for nothing if the gas that could not be used by Spanish industries could not then later be used by the homes or industries of other countries.”

Portugal’s secretary for the environment and energy, João Galamba, said the proposed measure was “unsustainable” and “disproportionate.”

“The whole logic behind rationing presupposes interlinked (European gas distribution) systems, and it appears the European Commission forgot about that,” Mr Galamba told the Portuguese newspaper Publico.

Belgium EU Russia Ukraine Energy
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Commissioner for European Green Deal Frans Timmermans address a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels (Virginia Mayo/AP/PA)

He added that “Portugal was for years and years disadvantaged because it had no links” to the rest of Europe’s energy distribution network and the country has always had to buy “more expensive gas”.

The reduced electrical connections and gas pipelines between Spain and France led to the EU allowing Iberian countries to install their own price-control mechanisms this spring.

All EU countries — as well as many nations around the world — are battling soaring inflation driven by energy prices rising in part due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Spain’s left-wing coalition government has faced protests by drivers and farmers in recent months due to price hikes. Inflation in Spain peaked over 10% in June, compared to 8.6% for the eurozone.

Spain relied on gas for 27% of its electricity in June, compared to 48% from renewable sources, according to Enagas, the operator of Spain’s natural gas network.

Russia provided 10% of Spain’s gas imports this year, behind the United States (34%), Algeria (25%) and Nigeria (14%), Enagas said.

Spanish officials also noted their expanded infrastructure for importing LNG (liquified natural gas). With six plants in Spain and one in Portugal, they account for one third of Europe’s LNG processing capacity.

Ms Ribera said 20% of the gas imported to Spain last month was later sent to other EU members.

The EU’s 27 member nations plan to discuss the proposed gas-saving measures at an emergency meeting of energy ministers on Tuesday.