Home Business the gas pipeline linking France to Spain sows discord

the gas pipeline linking France to Spain sows discord

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To get rid of Russian gas, as the European Union wishes, it is necessary to multiply the sources of supply and create new routes to transport them. This is the meaning of the MidCat project (Midi-Catalonia), this gas pipeline linking Spain to France, launched in 2013 and abandoned in 2019, which is now back in the spotlight.

It provides for a 230 kilometer pipeline from Hostalric, north of Barcelona, ​​to join Barbaira, east of Carcassonne, crossing the Pyrenees. But the opposition to the project is still just as strong, for financial and environmental issues.

Spanish pressures

Spain is pushing the project to the limit. Thanks to the Ukrainian crisis, the country imagines itself becoming a great “gas hub” connecting southern and northern Europe. The infrastructure is already there, with seven liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, i.e. a quarter of the EU’s capacity, where LNG tankers from around fifteen countries dock, and two gas pipelines linked to Algeria, including one, however, was arrested in November by the Algerian government, due to tensions with Morocco.

But Spain lacks interconnections with France, to the point that 60% of the capacity available in Spanish terminals is not used. “Today, Spain can represent up to 6% of France’s gas supply. With this new infrastructure, transit volumes would be doubled, allowing us to significantly reduce our dependence on Russian gas.”judge Dominique Mockly, the CEO of Teréga, the manager of the gas network in the south-western quarter of France.

Multiple disputes

At the beginning of 2019, the French and Spanish regulators had nevertheless contributed to the burial of the project. Valued at 440 million euros, it was then considered both too expensive and not essential. The two countries had also not succeeded in agreeing on a key for the distribution of investments, France showing itself to be far behind on this file, arguing that this amounted to making French consumers pay for a project which would above all benefit to the Spaniards.

MidCat had also been removed from the list of priority infrastructures to be financed by the European Union. To make matters worse, the gas pipeline was also the subject of strong opposition from environmental associations, in the name of the fight against a fossil energy project.

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Even today, the Chairman of the Energy Regulation Commission (CRE), Jean-François Carenco, warns against the risk of “create a new Notre-Dame-des-Landes”, the airport project near Nantes which has been abandoned. And, according to him, the usefulness of MidCat is still not demonstrated. “While Germany is going to develop LNG terminals, I don’t know if it would be of any use”, he believes.

First transport gas then hydrogen

For the promoters of the gas pipeline, the context is radically different from that of 2019. “At the time, the objective was first to lower prices in Spain by bringing in gas from the North. Now it’s the other way around. We are in a logic of independence vis-à-vis Russian gas and preparation of the hydrogen flows of tomorrow”, believes Dominique Mockly.

In other words, MidCat would first transport methane and then hydrogen, with some technical adjustments planned from its design, which would be cheaper than making them later.

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The demand for green hydrogen is expected to increase to gradually replace gas. Germany is already working on booking solar capacity in Spain and North Africa. The electricity thus produced would be used to produce hydrogen by electrolysis, then transported in pipes. “MidCat could be the first brick of a European hydrogen backbone”assures the CEO of Teréga.

European subsidy

With the new international situation, the tone has changed in Brussels with regard to this project. He is ” crucial “affirmed the President of the European Commission at the beginning of May, emphasizing “geopolitical importance” of this pipeline. “We have to do it now” for us “free from Russian threats”, added Ursula von der Leyen, suggesting that he could benefit from a subsidy under the new “Repower EU” program, intended to accelerate the energy transition. A file could be submitted in this regard in the coming weeks.

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Hydrogen from wind turbines

The American Plug Power, which specializes in hydrogen, fuel cells and electrolyzers, announced on Wednesday June 8 an investment of 315 million dollars (294 million euros) in the Belgian port of Antwerp-Bruges to build a green hydrogen plant from wind energy. The plant, whose construction should begin at the end of 2023, should start its production “end of 2024, beginning of 2025”, from wind electricity coming from Denmark or Belgium. “Green hydrogen is an industrial revolution for the next 100 years,” said Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh. The energy crisis in Europe, resulting from the war in Ukraine, is accelerating the demand for projects in this area.

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