Green NGOs tell MEPs that Malta pipeline funding should be refused

Greenpace, Friends of the Earth want EU funding to be limited to renewable energy projects and exclude Malta’s pipeline after it was included in potential projects that use gas as “transitional” fuel to hydrogen

A list of projects eligible for EU funding, including the Melite pipeline, will be up for discussion and voting in the ITRE committee, the European Parliament’s committee on industry
A list of projects eligible for EU funding, including the Melite pipeline, will be up for discussion and voting in the ITRE committee, the European Parliament’s committee on industry

A coalition of major European NGOs, including Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace, is calling on MEPs to reject EU funding for 30 fossil fuel projects –  including a proposed hydrogen-ready gas pipeline linking Malta to Sicily.

The list of projects eligible for EU funding, including the Melite pipeline, will be up for discussion and voting in the ITRE committee, the European Parliament’s committee on industry, tomorrow.

The list of projects will be voted upon by all MEPs in the first week of March. If rejected, the funding list will go back to the Commission’s drawing board. Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar sits on the ITRE committee.

The NGOs want funding to be limited to projects that are in line with EU legal commitments under the Paris Agreement and European Green Deal, namely “electricity projects which can deliver renewable and clean energy”.

Pipeline plans: Malta studying ‘availability’ of hydrogen from Sicily

NGOs fear that funding gas infrastructure will perpetuate a dependence on fossil fuels at a time when Europe is committed to decarbonise its economy in line with its international commitments.

“Rolling out additional, unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure is not aligned with the aim of the European Green Deal, and risks creating stranded assets and locking Europe further into a fossil fuel future,” Suzanne Mass, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Malta, told MaltaToday.

The Maltese gas pipeline was originally excluded from the Connecting Europe Facility funding in both 2020 and 2021. But it was reinserted in a new list where it was rebranded as a ‘hydrogen ready’ pipeline, thanks to a derogation from the original rules as agreed by EU energy ministers. Instead the gas pipeline will be built so as to also transport hydrogen, with the European Commission agreeing to allow “blending projects” during a transitional period that ends in 2029.

Most hydrogen is already currently produced using fossil fuels, which also contribute to global warming. But “green hydrogen” can also be produced using renewable energy through electrolysis: electricity that comes from renewable energy sources, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. Still, costs for this energy method are prohibitive, wth green hydrogen representing a very small fraction (1%-5%) of global hydrogen production.

Environmentalists also fear that ‘hybrids’ that use greenhouse gases like methane or processes like biomass, would simply prolong fossil fuel dependency.

Malta’s own decarbonisation plan, which envisages an increased use of natural gas between 2020 and 2030, identifies green hydrogen as a “potential future source of energy”, with current plants retrofitted for this source.

NGOs claim the political agreement which overruled the exclusion of gas projects, was also drafted under outdated criteria adopted prior to the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal.

Pipelines have murder and corruption links NGOs

The major concern of the NGOs is that the list of funded projects does not fully exclude fossil gas projects and allows not only indirect support for fossil fuel projects “through blending”, but also direct support for two significant fossil gas projects – namely Melite, and the East-Med pipeline (linking Cyprus to Greece).

But the NGOs also refer to Yorgen Fenech, the alleged mastermind of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and his role in Electrogas which is contractually eligible for compensation when and if the pipeleline is completed.

The NGOs claim that both the Malta and Cyprus pipelines “have links to corruption, political tensions, human right violations and in the case of Melite, have murder accusations attached to them.”

The Melite pipeline is entirely government owned and does not include any private shareholding. But its completion would trigger a multi-million euro payout to Electrogas as compensation for terminating the gas supply agreement.

What will happen if pipeline funding is rejected

The motion presented by MEPs calls on the EU Commission to propose a new list of projects eligible for funding, in line with EU law and climate commitments no later than June 2022 in recognition of the fact that an extensive delay is not optimal. This deadline is possible to achieve, as the selection process would not need to start again from scratch.

The green NGOs claim that a rejection of the fifth PCI (projects of common interest) list would immediately send a “strong message” to the European Commission that European decision-makers plan to support the Green Deal “not just with words but in practice”.

Investors would also know that gas plants are likely to lose their priority status with the updated list, “a consideration that cannot be underestimated,” the NGO say.

Europe is suffering from an unprecedented rise in energy prices, a problem which the NGOs claim is aggravated by reliance on fossil gas. “The reality of this crisis has exacerbated energy poverty for many across Europe and will continue to do so if we cannot treat the root of the problem. Continuing to rely on imported fossil fuels under the flimsy argument of energy security is not working for European Citizens”.

NGOs say eliminating dependency on fossil fuels means investing and prioritising renewable solutions that provide clean, good quality energy to those in need.

The coalition of NGOs includes Food & Water Action Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe, CEE Bankwatch, Gastivists, and Greenpeace.

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