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Draft EU taxonomy sparks discord over gas, nuclear future

GasCO2PowerRenewables

25 Mar 2021 16:05

Photo: Shutterstock.com

Photo: Shutterstock.com

Brussels

25 Mar 2021 16:05

(Montel) A draft EU taxonomy identifying sustainable activities has sparked discord over natural gas and nuclear’s future roles in helping the bloc cut its emissions ahead of the European Commission’s final version expected on April 21.

At stake is preferential access to financing, as private investors and public authorities look for low-carbon and renewable projects to achieve the EU's goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Those against natural gas and nuclear worry that labelling them as sustainable will divert money away from renewables and potentially lock in current technologies, while those in favour argue the EU will need all low-carbon options to meet its 2050 goal.

Green NGOs and scientists have criticised recent changes to the draft which would classify directly replacing a coal or oil-fired combined heat and power plant or district heating system with a natural gas-fired version as sustainable under certain conditions.

These include that the new facility’s direct emissions are lower than 270g of CO2 per kWh of energy output, it comes online by the end of 2025, and it is in one of the EU’s coal-dependent “just transition” regions, according to a draft leaked to media.

“Counting gas as green ignores the significant environmental effects of methane,” 226 green NGOs, scientists and institutions said in a letter to the EC published this week.

The EC stands by natural gas as a transition fuel, however, for coal-dependent EU countries such as Poland, which cannot switch quickly to clean energy sources, EC vice president for the EU green deal, Frans Timmermans, told the Eurogas annual conference on Thursday.

But the EU’s focus remained carbon-free electricity and decarbonised gases, including hydrogen, with green hydrogen as the final destination, he said. “Fossil fuels have no viable [long-term] future.”

Nuclear review
The EC is still assessing whether to include nuclear in the taxonomy, a detailed classification of sustainable activities, and plans to decide on this separately in a later review.

Green NGO Greenpeace has criticised this approach, noting that the EU’s expert group on the taxonomy last year advised excluding nuclear as it was not possible to prove it complied with the EU’s “do no significant harm” principle.

However, Jean-Bernard Levy, CEO of EDF, which runs 56 nuclear reactors in France, called for all low-carbon technologies to be included in the taxonomy at the Clean Energy Summit webinar on Tuesday.

Sustainable status
The Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia are also pushing the EC to give nuclear sustainable status.

Leaders from these seven countries argued nuclear provides low-emission baseload power that enables higher renewable power penetration in a letter to the EC published on Wednesday.

Nuclear power could also be “a very promising source of low-carbon hydrogen at an affordable price,” they said.

The EC sees hydrogen as a way to decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors such as heavy industry and transport, but its EU strategy published last year focused on using renewable power to make it.

The taxonomy would classify blue hydrogen made from natural gas with carbon capture and storage as sustainable, Eurogas secretary general James Watson told Montel on Thursday.

The emissions limit for general power generation – excluding nuclear – in the draft taxonomy is 100g of CO2 per kWh, which ruled out standard gas-fired power plants, he said.

Once the EC adopts the final taxonomy, the European Parliament and EU Council, representing national governments, have two months to examine it and say if they object. If they do not object, the EC can make the taxonomy legally binding. It would apply from 1 January.

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