Sunday, 2 October, 2022
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Spain, Portugal hail Berlin call for Europe gas link

Spain, Portugal hail Berlin call for Europe gas link

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Spain and Portugal backed Germany's call for a gas pipeline linking the Iberian peninsula with central Europe on Friday, with Madrid saying its part of the connection could be "operational" within months.

The proposal came as Europe struggles to find ways to rapidly reduce its energy dependence on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, which has upended the power market, sending prices soaring and nations scrambling for supplies.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said a pipeline running through Portugal, Spain and France to central Europe was "conspicuously absent" and if it existed, it could make "a massive contribution" to easing the supply crisis.

Spain currently has six liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals for processing gas that arrives by sea which could help the EU boost imports, but only has two, low-capacity links to France's gas network, which has connections to the rest of Europe.

Madrid has been pushing for the revival of the pipeline project linking the Catalan Pyrenees with France, which could significantly increase its supply capacity.

Speaking to Spain's public television, Ecology Minister Teresa Ribera welcomed the chancellor's remarks and expressed Madrid's "willingness to contribute to the energy crisis ... using Spain's regasification infrastructure".

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said such a pipeline link to central Europe was "a priority" for Portugal, welcoming Germany's stance as upping "the pressure on European institutions" to make progress on this issue.

Although there was a good gas network in the Iberian Peninsula, the problem was transporting it across the Pyrenees, with Spain and its gas network operator Enagas working with the French authorities to develop "a more straightforward interconnection", the Spanish minister said.

"This pipeline across the Catalan Pyrenees would require an investment," she said, adding that "Enagas estimates that the pipeline could be operational within eight or nine months on the southern side of the border."

The pipeline would be similar to the defunct MidCat project which sought to link Portugal, Spain to France but it drew opposition from environmental groups and work was halted in 2019 when financing fell through.

But the Ukraine war has boosted calls to resume such plans, including from EU chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Speaking to AFP, an Enagas spokeswoman confirmed the timeline "of eight to nine months from the start of construction".

Under its 2022-2030 strategic plan, the company aims to spend some 370 million euros on the pipeline project.

Ribera also said Spain was working to make better use of its existing pipelines by installing an additional compressor, which would allow it to increase the volume of gas exported by 20 to 30 percent.

This could take place within "two or three months", she added.

"Obviously it's not much -- through these interconnections, we can provide up 2.0-2.5 percent of the gas consumed in the European Union as a whole -- but it's relevant."