The European Commission — the primary executive arm of the European Union — announced a plan Wednesday to wean itself off Russian natural gas, as the war in Ukraine wages on and global gas and oil prices continue to climb.
The plan, known as REPowerEU, calls for increases in energy efficiency, a build-out of renewables, and an increase in supply of fossil fuels from other countries over the next decade. The Commission estimates that the plan will cost approximately $300 billion euros, or $315 billion.
“We must now reduce as soon as possible our dependence on Russian fossil fuels,” said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the Commission, in a statement to the press. “I am deeply convinced that we can.”
The European Union is heavily dependent on Russian coal, oil, and natural gas — a dependence that has become a liability as the bloc attempts to levy financial sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. In 2021, the E.U. imported more than 40 percent of its natural gas, 27 percent of its oil, and 46 percent of its coal from Russia, at a cost of almost 100 billion euros ($105 billion). Some European nations have already been cut off from Russian fossil fuels: Poland and Bulgaria stopped receiving gas from Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy company, in April due to their refusal to pay in Russian rubles. (Switching to rubles was Russia’s attempt to evade Western sanctions on the country’s central bank.). The E.U. has vowed to end the use of Russian coal by August and cut use of Russian natural gas by two-thirds by the end of the year.
The new plan, which has been in the works since shortly after the start of the Russian invasion, urges the E.U. to accelerate the build-out of clean energy, calling for an increase in the energy share of renewables to 45 percent by 2030 and doubling solar capacity by 2025. It also proposes a new “solar rooftop initiative,” with a phased-in requirement that solar panels be installed on all new buildings. The strategy also calls for an increase in energy efficiency and a communications program to try to cut oil and natural gas demand by 5 percent.
But energy and climate experts have critiqued the plan for its focus on securing new sources of fossil fuels — and remaining vague on how efficiency plans should be carried out. The REPowerEU plan was also accompanied by a new international energy strategy, which called for an additional 50 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to be imported from the United States and other international partners, as well as 10 million tons of imported hydrogen.
“REPowerEU accelerates the European Green Deal, but on the other hand, it fails to disrupt our fossil gas habits,” Raphael Hanoteaux, a senior policy advisor for gas politics at the Brussels-based energy think tank E3G, said in a statement. “This inconsistency sets the EU up for a messier and costlier transition than necessary.”
Experts also critiqued the fact that the new plan would involve raising 20 billion euros ($21 billion) by selling emissions allowances from the European Union’s cap-and-trade system. Matthias Buck, head of European policy at the German think tank Agora Energiewende, argued in a statement that those allowances could lower the E.U.’s carbon price, thus ultimately leading to more carbon dioxide emissions.
According to Buck, if the E.U. continues to invest in liquefied natural gas terminals and other fossil fuel infrastructure, the bloc could end up with stranded assets. (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has argued that the building of any new fossil fuel infrastructure would move the planet past the climate goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius.) Instead, the E.U. should focus on deploying renewables even more quickly, Buck said in the statement, and installing electrified heating systems, like heat pumps, to rapidly cut gas and oil demand.
“There is thus no overriding energy security concern that could justify prioritizing investments into fossil infrastructure in the short term,” he said.