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ENERGY

German regulator suspends Nord Stream 2 approval process

Germany's energy regulator said Tuesday it was temporarily halting the approval process for Russia's controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, saying the operating company first needs to become compliant with German law.

A sign reads
A sign reads "Info Point Nord Stream 2 Committed Reliable Safe" above a map at the natural gas receiving station in Lubmin, northern Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

The move is the latest setback for the 10-billion-euro project ($12 billion), which has been dogged by delays and become a geopolitical hot potato.

The Baltic Sea pipeline is set to double Russian gas supplies to Germany, which the EU’s top economy says is needed to help it transition away from coal and nuclear energy.

But opponents say the recently completed pipeline will increase Europe’s energy reliance on Russia.

Crucially, the pipeline also bypasses Ukraine’s gas infrastructure, depriving the country of much-needed transit fees.

The dispute comes as Europe, which receives a third of its gas from Russia, is battling surging energy prices just as the continent heads into the colder winter season.

German consumers have been warned that prices for energy are at their highest levels – and will increase further. 

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Germany’s energy regulator said in a statement that “it would only be possible to certify an operator of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if that operator was organised in a legal form under German law.”

READ ALSO: Germany set to finish controversial Russian pipeline despite US protest

The certification procedure “will remain suspended until the main assets and human resources” have been transferred from the Nord Stream 2 parent company to its German subsidiary, that will own and operate the German part of the pipeline, it added.

Critics have accused Moscow of intentionally limiting gas supplies to Europe and driving up prices in an effort to hasten the launch of Nord Stream 2, a claim Russia denies.

Russian gas giant Gazprom said last week that it had begun implementing a plan to restock European gas storage facilities.

Germany’s energy regulator has four months, until January 2022, to give its green light for Nord Stream 2.

After that, the European Commission still needs to give its recommendation.

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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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