The director of CINEA, a newly created EU agency that manages € 55 billion in EU funding for clean energy and transport, told EURACTIV about the challenge of ending fossil fuel projects entirely , claiming that coal and natural gas assets “aren’t just going to go away.” And must be managed during the transition.
Officially created on February 12, the European Executive Agency for Climate, Infrastructure and Environment (CINEA) has a seemingly simple mission: to support the green transition.
With its portfolio of € 55 billion of EU-funded programs until 2027, the agency “has a clear focus on climate and the environment,” said its director, Dirk Beckers.
“CINEA is the European executive agency that implements the European Green Deal,” Beckers told EURACTIV in a written interview.
Among other energy-related programs, the agency manages € 9.5 billion in research and innovation funding until 2027 in areas such as bioenergy, solar, wind , geothermal, heating and cooling, tides, waves and hydropower, he said.
All of these are geared towards the EU’s decarbonisation targets, with the aim of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.
“European renewable energy and energy efficiency policies are aligned with ambitious decarbonisation targets for 2030 and 2050” and “will allow this transition to happen faster, more safely but also more efficiently”, did he declare.
For example, projects related to floating wind turbines have helped improve the performance and reduce the costs of the technology. Other projects, meanwhile, aim to improve the integration of photovoltaic panels in buildings in order to improve their performance while reducing costs.
Mechanism for interconnection in Europe
However, CINEA did not start from scratch. The agency was built on the former Executive Agency for Innovation and Networks (INEA), which managed previous EU programs with different policy objectives.
Most notable is the Connecting Europe Facility, an EU program dedicated to cross-border transport and energy infrastructure. With 31 billion euros under management, the CEF covers more than half of the 55 billion euros in agency funding for the period 2021-2027, most of which is reserved for transport infrastructure.
And while the bulk of energy infrastructure funding now goes to power projects and interconnections, the CEF also covers old EU priorities such as natural gas interconnections, admits Beckers.
“The CEF Energy program has supported 66 actions in the field of gas infrastructure projects over the past seven years” for a total of 1.5 billion euros, Beckers told EURACTIV.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel that environmental activists and the European Commission agree must eventually be phased out in order to achieve climate neutrality.
But according to Beckers, fossil fuel projects are not yet fully finished for CINEA. The agency currently has four ongoing projects involving “flexible power plants” linked to fossil fuels, he said.
The main objective of these projects is to “transform coal-fired power plants into biomass cogeneration plants to help decarbonize the energy market” and increase their flexibility, he explained.
Their funding will stop at the end of the projects, which is expected “within the next three years,” Beckers said.
When asked about the reason for continuing such projects, Beckers said they were motivated by the need to ensure a smooth transition away from fossil fuels.
“We must be aware that despite remarkable developments and significant investments in clean energy technologies, the energy transition will still take time, even in Europe, which is a world leader in these areas”.
Power plants running on fossil fuels must be managed during the transition to ensure a continued supply of affordable energy to European consumers, he argued.
“We will need to make sure that during the transition phase our energy system will remain stable, reliable and functional,” Beckers said. “This means that fossil fuel power plants are not just going to go away and we need to manage them as best as possible as they are significant sunk costs and are still needed to balance the grid in some cases. “
Environmental groups, however, are begging to disagree.
“We fully see the value of leaving time for the transition, but not shutting down the gas plants tomorrow does not mean that we have to invest public funds in more fossil fuels,” said Elisa Giannelli, policy adviser main focus at E3G, a reflection on the climate. -Tank.
“EU resources should not fund low ambition or business as usual, but spike,” she told EURACTIV in comments sent via email.
If the funds managed by CINEA support fossil fuel projects, it is because of the lack of coherence of the EU budget, she explained.
Beckers maintains that the remaining fossil fuel projects managed by CINEA focus on increasing the flexibility of power plants so that they can serve as backup to variable renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
As such, they allow a higher percentage of renewable energy sources and decrease overall greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, he claims.
But Giannelli rejected these arguments.
“The most important thing is that we do not need any public support for fossil fuel facilities or infrastructure, neither to balance the grid nor to expand the infrastructure at the level of transport or distribution,” he said. she declared.
“Public funding would be better used to support energy efficiency and the deployment of renewables, especially when you see the impact of gas prices.”
The Interconnection in Europe Mechanism (CEF) itself has evolved over the years. Now in its second iteration, the CEF program finances cross-border transport projects, the integration of the European energy market and the digital transformation of the economy, by strengthening the deployment of high-capacity networks.
Some € 25.81 billion from the facility will go to transport projects, of which € 11.29 billion is earmarked for the poorest regions and countries in the EU. Energy projects will benefit from € 5.84 billion in funding, while digital projects will benefit from € 2.06 billion.
A future source of additional funding for CINEA will come from the Regulation on Trans-European Energy Networks (TEN-E), which is currently being negotiated by lawmakers.
As part of the ongoing talks, the European Parliament has voted to exclude pipelines from EU funding – with a few exceptions.
According to Beckers, the revised TEN-E regulation will bring a change in the type of projects handled by the agency, “such as the inclusion of hydrogen pipelines”.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]