Portugal refuses Brussels’ call to cut gas consumption

Argues cut would compromise electricity production

If President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was part of a chess game to cause the collapse of the European Union, the uproar Brussels’ call to member states to reduce gas consumption by 15% by next spring has caused will be music to his ears.

All media outlets agree that the proposal outlined by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen earlier this week has seen the return of the ‘north-south divide’.

Leader writers are already suggesting ‘the beginning of the end of the European Union’ – a refrain that has been used repeatedly in the past (always precipitous).

Certainly, Portugal has come out categorically against the proposals – reasons being that such a cut would be ‘unsustainable’. 

Portugal needs gas to power its renewables energy sector. Without gas, and in the situation of drought that has already deeply compromised hydro power, systems in place would simply be incapable of supplying the country, environment minister Duarte Cordeiro told reporters yesterday..

Portugal isn’t the only country digging in heels against Von der Leyen’s European Gas Demand Reduction Plan. Other dissenters include Spain, Greece, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus. Elsewhere, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia are also opposed, for slightly different reasons: they want the plan ‘softened’; the percentage cut to be lower.

To be fair, Brussels has already accepted that countries (like Portugal) which have very limited ‘interconnections’ (very little ability to share power) can cut by 5% not 15% – but even that, says Expresso, is not acceptable to either Portugal’s or Spain’s political leaders, both of them in charge of countries with very limited ‘interconnections’.

For now, the bartering continues. This issue is tabled for discussion at the Extraordinary Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council to be held in Brussels next Tuesday, which will also be raising another contentious issue: “The Commission wants the power to action a ‘State of Union Alert’ (which would be obligatory), writes Expresso. “The majority of countries want this decision to remain in the hands of Member States, and not with the executive of Ursula von der Leyen”.

Are we all going to freeze next winter?

This is the gist of a question and answer column in Expresso today, which explains some of the bottom lines of Brussels’ European Gas Demand Reduction Plan:

Will gas consumption cuts be obligatory?

Short answer: no. Long answer: “The European Commission wants Member States to reduce gas consumption by 15% during the period between August and March compared to average volumes of the last five years, for now on a voluntary basis. However, in the case of cuts in supply (meaning cuts instigated by Russia), Brussels could activate a State of Emergency, defining supply priorities for all countries.

Will families be without gas?

Short answer: hmmmmm. Long answer: “The Commission notes that families and essential services (like hospitals and others) are at the end of the line of consumers for whom cuts would be imposed in a case of emergency. There would be awareness campaigns so that all consumers reduced as much as possible, to avoid a winter in which it would be necessary to take more severe measures”.

What can families do?

“Every country has until September to define the form in which it proposes to reduce gas consumption. But the Commission leaves a series of suggestions. One of these is that families lower the thermostats in homes and buildings; reduce the temperature of their water, minimising energy consumption (although this measure may be more efficient in the north of Europe, more exposed to gas consumption for heating than the south).

What can the State do?

“It can determine reductions in consumption in public buildings, as well as run awareness campaigns aimed at citizens and businesses. It can also accelerate financial support systems towards improving the energetic efficiency of buildings that reduce the necessity of gas and electricity consumption for heating in winter. (This response points out that a large part of electricity produced requires gas in the process…)”

And industry?

“Member States are invited to promote ‘interruptibility contracts’ – these being agreements on conditions in which a factory would accept a cut in energy supply (receiving a price discount by way of compensation). Brussels also proposes the incentive for switching energy sources, whether in industry (moving from gas to renewable sources like biomass, biomethane or solar), or the production of electricity (reducing recourse to power sources fed by gas and guaranteeing emergency oil reserves for power sources prepared to burn oil)”.

Portugal imports nearly all its natural gas via sea ports

Expresso adds that while Portugal has a residual exposure to Russian gas (believed to be less than 10%) it has to import all the gas via sea ports, given the fact that interconnections with the rest of Europe are minimal.

Beyond this, Portugal’s consumption of natural gas is “distinct from the other European countries. In some countries in the north and centre of Europe, gas is used heavily by domestic clients, for heating – so that measures like turning down thermostats allow significant savings. This doesn’t happen in Portugal.

“In Portugal around 20% of natural gas is consumed by domestic clients, while the rest is distributed to industry and electric power plants (which this year have consumed a record amount of gas due to the drought)”.