Spain holds the key to resolving the great gas crisis in Europe. But it also has a problem: France

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“I am not convinced that we need more gas interconnections,” he affirmed President Emmanuel Macron, referring to the MidCat project, the great gas pipeline through the Pyrenees that was going to reinforce the interconnection of Spain with France, and incidentally with the rest of Europe. A rejection that represents a setback for our country, which continues to have as its objective the construction of new interconnections to send more gas.

If Europe wants Algeria’s gas, it must pay for it. Spain currently has two gas pipelines with France (Irún and Larrau). The MidCat would be the third, a large pipeline to expand the gas supply that comes to Spain from Algeria. Its capacity is estimated at about 7,000 million cubic meters, but the project has been stopped since 2019 because France is not willing to finance its part.

Spain is already a great gas barn. In the months of July and August, Spain was the world’s leading importer of Russian gas by ship. The importance of Spain is not only the fact that it receives a large amount of gas through Algeria, but also that it is the gateway for most of the liquefied natural gas (LNG). And the advantage is that 35% of the European regasification capacity passes through Spain.

In comparison, France has 14% and Italy 5%. These data show the “need” that Spain has to take advantage of its infrastructure and supply the rest of the countries with gas.

Spain can become Europe's gas barn.  For that you need to bet everything on LNG

What are the arguments of France. “If tomorrow President Sánchez tells me: ‘here are the facts’, I am willing to review my position,” Macron assured. At the moment, France’s position is against investing in a gas pipeline with Spain, since he considers that they are already enough.

One fact that Macron uses is that the current gas pipelines are used at 53% of their capacity. “If today we were at 100% utilization of our gas pipelines and today there was a need to export gas to France, Germany and elsewhere, I would say yes, but it is not,” he says.

Another argument is the ecological question, because in his opinion the commitment to gas does not respond to the objectives of combating climate change. Instead, France continues to rely on nuclear power as a central element.

The bottleneck is in other steps. From the 60% that was reached in August for the connection in the Pyrenees, it goes to very high percentages such as the 97% between France and Switzerland. In other words, the infrastructure is not used to the maximum on the way from Spain to France, but because the stretch from France to its neighbors in the south is not efficient enough either.

In addition to MidCat, France and Germany are discussing other gas pipelines such as the Obergailbach. The German country needs more gas and Spain can collaborate, but it needs the approval of a France that believes that the commitment to gas is bread for today (relatively), but a bad strategy for the coming years.

Green hydrogen as an excuse for the future. The creation of the MidCat gas pipeline is a strong investment, but Spain justifies it by arguing that it could also be used to transport green hydrogen, one of the energies included in the European Union’s plans.

However, Macron does not see it clearly either. “What needs to be transported is the low-carbon electricity from Spain to do the electrolysis at the production sites that need the hydrogen,” he explains. That is, not to transport the hydrogen itself but directly the electricity.

Around the “European solidarity”. The Minister of Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, has explained that Spain’s position “will always be to help the rest of the European countries” and that “today we are already doing so by exporting gas and electricity. In the future, with the export of green hydrogen”.

The most repeated word these days when talking about the gas problem is solidarity. The one that is asked of France so that it decides to take charge of the necessary investment to expand the interconnections.

The dilemma facing Spain is defined by Joan Groizard, director of the Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving (IDAE) at The Newspaper of Spain: “It would not make sense that Spanish citizens, companies and administrations had to save not only 7% of their own consumption, but also take into account that on the other side of the border they need more energy due to their own problem”.

Europe prepares for a winter without gas from Russia.  It can go very wrong if there is no solidarity

Plan B goes through Italy. France’s reticence forces us to think of an alternative plan, although the truth is that there is still hope (less and less) that France will reconsider its position and the MidCat gas pipeline can be completed by the end of 2023.

Beyond MidCat, there is the possibility of a submarine gas pipeline between Barcelona and Livorno that unifies the regasification plants. It would be a connection through the Mediterranean with an approximate cost of 3,000 million euros. A work, in the opinion of Minister Ribera, “more complicated”.

Image | Jay SterlingAustin

“I am not convinced that we need more gas interconnections,” he affirmed President Emmanuel Macron, referring to the MidCat project,…

“I am not convinced that we need more gas interconnections,” he affirmed President Emmanuel Macron, referring to the MidCat project,…

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