Energy pipeline ‘breakthrough’ will take at least five years to construct
President Macron finally agrees to energy interconnections between Portugal and Spain, but they are very different to the project 'agreed' in 2014 Image: Miguel A Lopes/ Lusa

Energy pipeline ‘breakthrough’ will take at least five years to construct

…. And could cost (national citizens) “€200-€300 million”

The ‘energy pipeline breakthrough’ claimed by prime minister António Costa last week may, in the end, not really be such a breakthrough after all.

This is the gist of reports that have tried to analyse ‘the small print’ of the ‘Green Energy Corridor”: which includes an at least five year delay before interconnections between the Iberian Peninsula and France could be fully functional, and no real guarantees of how they will be financed.

Economy minister Duarte Cordeiro has even gone so far as to suggest “consumers” could end up footing some of the bill for the Portuguese section of work, that could stretch from €200 million to as much as €300 million.

Add to this criticism that the infrastructure does not guarantee the energy connections Portugal ‘needs’ (see below) – and the soundbites keep coming.

Today, the ‘latest position’ is that opposition PSD is calling for an urgent debate in parliament, ideally on Thursday, to be attended by PM Costa

Euro MP Paulo Rangel is accusing the government of “making propaganda” and having no real technical understanding of what it is proposing.

Energy specialist António Sá da Costa has elaborated on this point, suggesting a pipeline capable of transporting natural gas and green energy, like pure hydrogen, is pie in the sky.

These systems all require different kinds of pipes, he stresses. “The pipes that exist in the (natural gas) transport network are permeable to hydrogen output; they are no good”, he told SIC television news. “You can’t inject more than 10% – at most 15% – of hydrogen into a natural gas mixture. To transport pure hydrogen it has to be a completely different type of pipeline (…) I think they are making a nonsense. I think our rulers in the EU are perfectly misguided”.

To which, to date, economy minister Duarte Cordeiro has responded with ‘rubbish’; trashing Paulo Rangel’s criticism, and barely addressing the technical points raised by António Sá da Costa

Thus, as of today, it is unclear whether or not there will be an urgent debate on the technicalities of BarMar (as the project is to be called, due to it involving sea passage from Barcelona to Marseille), although it does seem certain the plan will be discussed further in Alicante on December 3. At this point, the issue of financing and whether European funding will cover it all should become more clear.

In the meantime, however, there are  more ‘unknowns’ – additional problems beyond the lack of certainty that Portugal will be receiving the gas it expects from Nigeria.

The greatest unknown seems to be over the country’s gas reserves. These, politicians have assured, are more than comfortable. But Rodrigo Costa, president of national energy network REN, stresses even this cannot guarantee more than one month’s supply.

Everything hinges on tanker arrivals continuing as schedule in Sines.

To add to uncertainty came the comments by economy minister António Costa Silva that, in spite of excellent gas reserves, the winter and early part of next year are going to be “complicated”. Costa Silva forecasts “the fight for gas supply in Europe will become chaotic”, writes SIC.

BarMar “does not guarantee energy connections Portugal needs”

BarMar comes on the back of MidCat – the first agreement on energy interconnections with Europe, reached in 2014 and never acted upon – which involve two connections to Portugal over the Pyrenees. These have now been ‘scrapped’. BarMar’s only connection from the Iberian Peninsula is to be by sea. In other words, it is not a physical infrastructure, but a shipping route. The physical infrastructures within Portugal and Spain will all connect with Barcelona, from which tankers loaded with natural gas/ hydrogen/ green gases will sail to Marseille.

Paulo Rangel clearly believes Portugal’s needs are being sold out. He said in Porto on Saturday that the question of energetic interconnections particularly when it comes to electricity is “strategic for Portugal.

“We are talking about decisions that will affect our economy and our well-being for the next decades”, he said.

For Portugal, says Rangel, those two electrical connections over the Pyrenees “were much more important than any gas connection” as they would have spelled a greater degree of energy sovereignty, with spin offs of attracting and fixing foreign and even national investment.

“The abandonment of the Pyrenees interconnections, the MidCat, for the new interconnection between Barcelona and Marseille, the BarMar, promotes in terms of value the Spanish gas terminals of Barcelona and Valencia, meaning that Sines port would lose strategic importance”, he said – putting it even more bluntly by saying: “We have exchanged the value of our renewables and the potential of the port of Sines for a plate of lentils. In popular parlance, we have gone from being a horse to a donkey“.

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