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EU looks to Spain, Portugal to reduce energy dependence

The EU took a step Wednesday to reduce its energy dependence, especially on Russia, seeking instead to improve connections between renewable energy giants Spain and Portugal, and the rest of Europe.

At a summit, the leaders of Spain, Portugal and France sought how to transit to the rest of Europe the spare energy produced south of the Pyrenees mountains separating France from Spain and Portugal.

While lacking in oil and gas, the two nations have strongly developed renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

Portugal generates about 25 percent of the energy it produces from renewables while Spain generates some 17 percent. During peak production periods the two nations have surplus energy, but the lack of connections over the Pyrenees means the surplus is lost.

The summit agreed a “high level group” would step up efforts to develop energy interconnections in southwest Europe and ensure that all planned projects are finished on time.

“Today we have started a unique process in regional convergence in energy and I would like to see more in all of Europe,” EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker told a news conference at the end of the summit.

The European Commission, the EU executive, is keen to complete a single European energy market and has cited conflict between Ukraine and the main EU energy supplier Russia as a key reason to invest in infrastructure that can maximise alternative supplies.

Britain, Ireland and Italy also suffer from low connection capacities with the rest of Europe which the Commission would like to change.

Brussels wants cross-border links to equate to at least 10 percent of a nation’s power generation capacity by 2020, and some of the projects would be financed by a 315-billion-euro investment plan unveiled by Juncker last week.

The construction of an underwater power line in the Bay of Biscay linking Spain and France is one of the projects awaiting financing.

– Wind has changed –

Leaders also agreed at the Madrid gathering to improve Spain’s gas links with France by reactivating an old project called MidCat, linking Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia with southern France.

“We are going to start the necessary studies to see how we can move on the second phase of this project,” said French President Francois Hollande at a news conference also attended by Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho.

Spain wants to become a strategic energy platform for Europe using two pipelines that link it to gas-rich Algeria and its six terminals for liquefied natural gas for imports from the rest of the world, said Gonzalo Escribano, an energy expert at Spain’s Real Instituto Elcano, a think-tank.

To develop this plan Spain’s conservative government lobbied hard to have its former agriculture minister Miguel Arias Canete appointed the EU bloc’s Climate Action and Energy Commissioner last year.

Guenther Oettinger, “the previous commissioner, was more concerned with the construction of a Transcaspian gas pipeline to Turkmenistan, which makes absolutely no sense, than for a solution to interconnections in the Pyrenees mountains,” said Escribano.

Madrid has long suspected that France wants to protect its huge nuclear power industry and its public monopolies in energy distribution from foreign competition, he added.

It took years to double the capacity of an existing power line linking north-eastern Spanish Catalonia to France which started operating last week.

But the wind has changed and both Spain and France are now calling for European financing for projects deemed to be of “strategic importance” for the EU.

“If there was an interconnection between Spain and the rest of Europe, Europe’s vulnerability and dependence on Russian gas would decrease,” said Spain’s Industry and Energy Minister Jose Manuel Soria.