EU accepts it will burn more coal in move away from Russian gas

Brussels has given the green light for the EU to burn more coal over the next decade as it tries to end the use of Russian gas and oil.

Coal is the most carbon-intensive fuel but the European Commission said the EU would use 5 per cent more than previously expected over the next five to 10 years as the bloc tries to replace Russian energy imports.

More nuclear power would also be used, a senior commission official said, as the EU unveiled its plans to beef up its energy infrastructure and become less reliant on Moscow.

The EU’s insistence that it must end the use of Russian oil and gas has been one of the biggest consequences for the bloc from Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Brussels wants to eliminate ties to Russian energy by 2027, both to deprive President Vladimir Putin of revenues and to give itself more freedom of manoeuvre to act against Moscow.

But the likely increased use of coal shows the short-term consequences for the EU’s green agenda, although the commission insisted it would still hit its carbon reduction goals.

Coal is expected to produce another 100 terawatt hours of power, around the electricity consumption of Belgium, annually over the next five to 10 years. Nuclear, which is low-carbon but unpopular with environmentalists because of the waste generated, is set to produce another 44 terawatt hours annually.

Asked if the REpowerEU plan was compatible with the EU’s “green deal” to decarbonise the economy, Frans Timmermans, the commissioner responsible for its implementation, said that “we have no choice”.

Officials said the bloc would hit its target to cut emissions by 55 per cent of 1990 levels by 2030.

Timmermans added that the commission should protect EU taxpayers’ money by not investing in fossil fuels that will be phased out. Pipelines and gas infrastructure funded by REpowerEU had to be capable of adaptation to carry zero-carbon gases such as renewable generated hydrogen and ammonia, he added.

The proportion of EU gas imports provided by Russia had already fallen from 40 per cent last year to 26 per cent, commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.

A combination of efficiency measures, huge investment in wind and solar power and gas purchases from other countries such as the US will aim to eliminate all Russian supplies by 2027.

Governments would have to loosen regulation to allow faster building of wind and solar projects. “If we don’t shorten the procedure we will never get to the levels of renewable energy [we need],” Timmermans said.

The commission has angered green groups by proposing to sell €20bn of surplus carbon emissions permits, which would allow the release of 250mn tonnes of CO₂ under the emissions trading scheme.

“The commission’s plan to accelerate the EU’s shift to clean energy solutions such as energy efficiency, wind and solar power is very welcome,” said Ester Asin, director of the WWF European policy office. “But financing this by selling pollution permits is misguided, as is building more fossil gas infrastructure or relying on increased biomass use. That will just prolong our dependence on fossil fuel imports and jeopardise climate goals.” 

Some money from the emission permits sales will go to convince Hungary to accept an EU ban on Russian oil. Budapest’s opposition has delayed the EU’s latest sanctions against Russia for several weeks.

About €2bn will help Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and other landlocked states that are fully dependent on Russian oil to access alternative supplies.

“We are giving . . . an answer as to how they can mitigate the cost of these effects and how they can . . . build an energy system without relying on Russian oil,” said a senior commission official.

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