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The EU Commission presents the RepowerEU plan

European Union, 2019 - Photographer: Bernard de Keyzer

The EU Commission unveils its plan to be independent from Russian energy “as soon as possible”.  What in early March was a goal to be achieved by 2030, has now become a priority to be pursued "as soon as possible." The war in Ukraine has exposed the vulnerability of the 27 EU member states in terms of energy security. 

The risks became concrete with Russian company Gazprom's decision in late April 2022 to cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria. Energy EU Commissioner Kadri Simson called the danger of a total disruption of energy supplies from Russia "tangible."

Brussels announced in March the preparation of a defined strategy to stop importing oil, gas and coal from Russia by 2027. When the commissioners presented "RepowerEU" on May 18, based on the guidance provided by European leaders on March 24-25, any time reference was removed. Getting out of energy dependence on Russia became a goal to be achieved "as soon as possible." Certain that "no Member State can tackle this challenge on its own," the Commission argues that it is possible to do without fossil fuels from Russia with three actions: save energy, diversify suppliers, and accelerate the ecological transition in Europe. The common thread of the three actions is investment and reform, which must be optimized and stimulated.

 In RepowerEu's text, saving energy is considered "the most immediate and cost-effective solution to address the current energy crisis." Reducing consumption makes the cost of utilities lower and allows for more energy in the most difficult months, while investments to build other reliable sources are being rolled out. The Commission proposes to increase the share of energy savings from 9% to 13% over 2020 levels. In addition to asking for the support of the Parliament and Council in bringing into force Energy Performance of Buildings Directive for improving the energy performance of buildings, the two EU legislative arms are also urged to support the Regulation on Ecodesign for Sustainable Products, establishing a framework for setting ecodesign requirements for sustainable products, and to guide citizens to adopt the International Energy Agency's suggestions in the nine-point "Playing my part" plan. In this plan, the Paris-based Agency estimates that for every degree centigrade less set in heating systems, 10 bcm would be saved in the EU. With reduced maximum speed limits for urban traffic (30 km/h zones, for example) more than 330 kilo barrels of oil per day can be saved.

 A Commission spokesperson revealed that lower energy prices will not be achieved within two months, but it remains necessary in the short term to turn to other international energy suppliers. Following the meeting of European leaders in March, the Commission and member states set up the first Platform for the voluntary common purchase of gas, LNG and hydrogen, of which the first regional task force was set up at the time of the announcement of the gas supply halt to Bulgaria. The platform will gather information and advise on ways to optimize the use of imported and stored energy. The Commission's goal is to arrive at the creation of a joint purchasing mechanism that will act on behalf of the member countries (the lesson of purchasing vaccines for Covid-19 teaches). The platform would also be open to Western Balkan countries, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

 At the heart of RepowerEU plan, there is an investment in renewables. Threats from Russia have led the Commission to propose an increase in the share of energy derived from renewables to be achieved by 2030, from the 40 per cent proposed a year ago to 45 per cent. The acceleration is to come in solar and hydrogen production, according to the European executive. The aim is to install an additional 320 GW of photovoltaic panels by 2025, doubling the amount of energy from photovoltaics. The amount of energy obtained through newly installed PV systems must reach 600 GW by 2030. A new directive is expected to mandate from 2026 the installation of new solar energy systems on new commercial and public buildings and to apply from 2029 this obligation to private homes. The devil in these resolutions lies in the time it takes to authorise the installation of new systems. Obtaining a permit means in the case of wind power waiting as long as 9 years or 4 and 1/2 years to install a ground-mounted PV system. But times vary from country to country. The European Commission wants to bring the bureaucratic rigmarole to one year for new permits throughout the EU.

 For what concerns clean hydrogen, the Commission wants to establish its definition and which productions contribute to net decarbonization. By 2030 it aims to reach 10 million tons of renewable hydrogen produced in the EU and another 10 million tons of imported hydrogen. "The Commission will support the development of three major hydrogen import corridors via the Mediterranean, the North Sea area and, as soon as the conditions allow it, with Ukraine," reads the text of the plan.

 But with what money will RepowerEu be funded? The Commission has loosened the reins: part of the Common Agricultural Policy and Cohesion Policy funds can be allocated to projects to implement RepowerEu until they are absorbed by the part of the National Recovery and Resilience Plans that talk about the energy transition. Adding the share of loans allocated by the Next Generation Eu post-pandemic recovery plan, the resources available could reach 300 billion euros. Then there is state aid: "the Commission will look into ways to facilitate state aid control for REPowerEU measures while limiting distortions to competition," the EU executive institution says.

Documents:

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2021/241 as regards REPowerEU chapters in recovery and resilience plans and amending Regulation 2021/1060, 2021/2115, 2003/87/EC and Decision 2015/1814

Commission Notice: Guidance on Recovery and Resilience Plans in the context of REPowerEU