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ENERGY

Germany, Russia to launch Nord Stream

The leaders of Germany and Russia will inaugurate the controversial Nord Stream pipeline pumping Russian gas to Western Europe on Tuesday, highlighting its strategic importance to both sides.

Germany, Russia to launch Nord Stream
Photo: DPA

Angela Merkel and Dmitry Medvedev will headline a guest list including the prime ministers of France and the Netherlands, Francois Fillon and Mark Rutte, and EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger to mark the first of controversial gas links under the Baltic Sea.

The ceremony in the northeastern German town of Lubmin will celebrate the arrival of the first Russian gas through the 1,224-kilometre-long (761 miles) pipeline into the European grid.

Once operational in late 2012, it will transport 55 billion cubic metres (1.9 trillion cubic feet) of gas a year to the EU for at least half a century, enough to supply around 26 million homes, Nord Stream says.

The consortium for the €7.4 billion ($10.2 billion) project is a joint venture between the Russian state-held gas giant Gazprom, German firms BASF and EON, Dutch company Gasunie and GDF Suez of France.

Russia loaded the first gas into the link in September and aims to use it to reduce its dependence on Ukraine and other transit nations where there have been pricing disputes that have in some cases disrupted delivery to Europe.

However, the project has been hotly contested since then Russian president Vladimir Putin and former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder presided over the signing in 2005. Schröder is now chairman of Nord Stream’s supervisory board.

Poland and the Baltic states have long voiced fears over the project, which bypasses their territory, arguing they will be on their own when bargaining with Russia for their own gas supplies.

Sweden has raised ecological objections to the massive seabed pipeline, which Gazprom has brushed aside.

“There had been concerns among some but good sense prevailed,” Russia’s ambassador to Germany, Vladimir Grinin, told AFP.

“Germany’s recent decision to abandon nuclear energy, which means that it will have a bigger need for gas in the medium-term, has led many to see more clearly.”

Germany this year decided to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by the end of 2022 in reaction to the disaster in March at Japan’s Fukushima facility.

Critics say the Kremlin uses Russia’s bountiful energy supplies as a strategic weapon to assert its political dominance.

Nord Stream is becoming operational just as the EU re-assesses its own reliance on Russia – currently supplier of more than a quarter of Europe’s gas – as its primary energy source.

A Nord Stream spokesman insisted Europe had nothing to fear. “That share (about 25 percent) will not change significantly when this is up and running because consumption is rising at the same time. We may reach around 30 percent,” said Jens D. Müller.

An energy expert at Germany’s DIW economic institute, Claudia Kemfert, said it would nevertheless be “wise for the West to diversify.”

“There is a gas surplus in the world – why fixate on Russia?” she asked, noting the market role to be played by liquefied natural gas.

However, the debate has been coloured by Gazprom’s mounting influence, particularly in Germany, where it owns a first-division football club and is in talks with RWE about intensifying cooperation.

RWE is involved in a competing pipeline project to Nord Stream – Nabucco – which is backed by the European Union and the United States. The route it would take, from the Caspian Sea via Turkey and eastern Europe, bypasses both Russia and Ukraine.

“The Nabucco project is already running into trouble, and closer ties between RWE and Gazprom would further decrease its chances,” Kemfert said.

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ENERGY

Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

Sweden's government has proposed a new law which will remove local municipalities' power to block wind parks in the final stages of the planning process, as part of a four-point plan to speed up the expansion of wind power.

Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

“We are doing this to meet the increased need for electricity which is going to come as a result of our green industrial revolution,” Strandhäll said at a press conference. 

“It is important to strengthen Sweden by rapidly breaking our dependence on fossil fuels, building out our energy production and restructuring our industry. The Swedish people should not be dependent on countries like Russia to drive their cars or warm their homes.”

“We are going to make sure that municipalities who say “yes” to wind power get increased benefits,” she added in a press statement. “In addition, we are going to increase the speed with which wind power is built far offshore, which can generally neither be seen or heard from land.” 

While municipalities will retain a veto over wind power projects on their territory under the proposed new law, they will have to take their decision earlier in the planning process to prevent wind power developers wasting time and effort obtaining approvals only for the local government to block projects at the final stags. 

“For the local area, it’s mostly about making sure that those who feel that new wind parks noticeably affect their living environment also feel that they see positive impacts on their surroundings as a result of their establishment,” Strandhäll said.  “That might be a new sports field, an improved community hall, or other measures that might make live easier and better in places where wind power is established.” 

According to a report from the Swedish Energy Agency, about half of the wind projects planned since 2014 have managed to get approval. But in recent years opposition has been growing, with the opposition Moderate, Swedish Democrats, and Christian Democrat parties increasingly opposing projects at a municipal level. 

Municipalities frequently block wind park projects right at the end of the planning process following grassroots local campaigns. 

The government a month ago sent a committee report, or remiss, to the Council on Legislation, asking them to develop a law which will limit municipal vetoes to the early stages of the planning process. 

At the same time, the government is launching two inquiries. 

The first will look into what incentives could be given to municipalities to encourage them to allow wind farms on their land, which will deliver its recommendations at the end of March next year. In March, Strandhäll said that municipalities which approve wind farm projects should be given economic incentives to encourage them to accept projects on their land. 

The second will look into how to give the government more power over the approvals process for wind projects under Sweden’s environmental code. This will deliver its recommendations at the end of June next year. 

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