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EU rushes out $315b plan to ditch Russian energy

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2022-05-20 09:51

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a press statement on the RePowerEU initiative to become independent of Russian gas, in Brussels, Belgium, May 18, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

The European Commission unveiled an ambitious but controversial plan on Wednesday to reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels, promote energy saving and speed up its transition to clean energy.

The plan, called REPowerEU, is an update of a strategy first announced in March.

The commission said the plan can reduce the European Union's dependency on Russian oil and gas through energy savings, diversification of energy supplies and accelerated rollout of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels in homes and industry.

A Eurobarometer survey conducted for the commission this month showed that 85 percent of Europeans believe that the EU should reduce its dependency on Russian oil and gas as soon as possible to support Ukraine.

"Today, we're taking our ambition to yet another level to make sure that we'll be independent of Russian fossil fuels as quickly as possible," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

"REPowerEU will help us to save more energy, to accelerate phasing out of fossil fuel, and most importantly, to kick start investment on a new scale. This will be the speed charging of our European Green Deal."

The commission hopes that its 300 billion euro ($315 billion) plan, still subject to approval by member states, can help it get rid of its dependency on Russian fossil fuels well before 2030.

But the EU plan shows that by phasing out Russian gas, its coal-fired power plants might also be used longer than initially expected.

The EU has been trying to increase its imports of liquefied natural gas from other sources such as the United States, Qatar as well as pipeline gas from Azerbaijan. It is now investing up to 12 billion euros in pipelines and LNG terminals to improve access to oil and gas from other countries.

Goals by 2030

The commission has proposed that 45 percent of the EU's energy mix should come from renewables by 2030, compared to the current target of 40 percent. It also intends to cut energy consumption by 13 percent by 2030 from 2020 levels, compared with the current goal of 9 percent.

European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson told the news conference on Wednesday that the EU recognizes that "untying Europe from its largest energy supplier is going to be difficult".

"But the economic benefits of ending our dependency will be much greater than the short-term cost of REPowerEU," she said.

Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at economic think tank Bruegel in Brussels, said on Wednesday that it will be the national capitals that determine the success of the plan.

"Most of the proposed measures require either national implementation or coordination between EU countries. The extent to which countries really engage is therefore going to be defining," he wrote in an analysis on Bruegel's website.

Greenpeace immediately criticized the EU's plan for simply turning to other sources of fossil fuels.

"The EU has been burned by its reliance on dirty Russian fuels, but now the European Commission is just searching for new fires to stick its hands in," said Greenpeace's EU climate and energy campaigner Silvia Pastorelli.

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