Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday April 13, 2022
Will War Make Europe’s Switch to Clean Energy Even Harder?
At the Siemens Gamesa factory in Aalborg, Denmark, where the next generation of offshore wind turbines is being built, workers are on their hands and knees inside a shallow, canoe-shaped pod that stretches the length of a football field. It is a mold used to produce one half of a single propeller blade. Guided by laser markings, the crew is lining the sides with panels of balsa wood.
The gargantuan blades offer a glimpse of the energy future that Europe is racing toward with sudden urgency. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia — the European Union’s largest supplier of natural gas and oil — has spurred governments to accelerate plans to reduce their dependence on climate-changing fossil fuels. Armed conflict has prompted policymaking pledges that the more distant threat of an uninhabitable planet has not.
Smoothly managing Europe’s energy switch was always going to be difficult. Now, as economies stagger back from the second year of the pandemic, Russia’s attack on Ukraine grinds on and energy prices soar, the painful trade-offs have crystallized like never before.
Moving investments away from oil, gas and coal to sustainable sources like wind and solar, limiting and taxing carbon emissions, and building a new energy infrastructure to transmit electricity are crucial to weaning Europe off fossil fuels. But they are all likely to raise costs during the transition, an extremely difficult pill for the public and politicians to swallow.
The crisis that has inspired Europe to more quickly reach toward clean energy sources like wind and solar also risks pitching it backward by unwinding efforts to shut coal mines and stop drilling new oil and gas wells to replace Russian fuel and bring prices down.
In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, leaders are planning to have several coal-fired power plants that were recently taken off the grid placed in reserve, so that they could be quickly fired up if needed. After years of dithering about investing so much in the natural gas infrastructure, Germany is also accelerating plans to build its own terminals for receiving liquefied natural gas, another fossil fuel.
“Security of our energy supply stands above everything else at the moment,” said Robert Habeck, the country’s economy minister and a Green party leader in the coalition government.
Local officials are taking similar steps. Last week, the Munich government decided to extend the life of one of the city’s coal-fired power plants, scrapping plans to convert it to burn natural gas in spring 2023.
And that’s in a country that has helped spearhead Europe’s efforts to shift to renewable energy.
In Poland, which gets 70 percent of its energy from coal and has been at loggerheads with the European Union over the climate agenda, the sudden energy shortage is being used by critics as evidence that the push to shut mines was a mistake.
Dominik Kolorz, head of the Silesian region of Solidarity Trade Union, said through a translator that “the so-called E.U. climate policy” was leading to a “huge economic crisis” and “total energy dependence on the Russian Federation.”
In many ways, Europe has been a leading laboratory for the decades-long transition. It started establishing taxes on carbon emissions more than 20 years ago. The European Union pioneered an emissions trading system, which capped the amount of greenhouse gases companies produced and created a marketplace where licenses for those emissions could be bought and sold. Polluting industries like steel were gradually pushed to clean up. Last year, members proposed a carbon tax on imports from carbon-producing sectors like steel and cement.
And it has led the way in generating wind power, especially from ocean-based turbines. Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, for example, has been instrumental in planting rows of colossal whirligigs at sea that can generate enough green energy to light up cities.
Europe, too, is on the verge of investing billions in hydrogen, potentially the multipurpose clean fuel of the future, which might be generated by wind turbines. (Continued: NYTimes)