July 27, 2018 / 8:32 PM / a year ago

France, Iberia aim for more energy cooperation

LISBON, July 27 (Reuters) - France, Spain and Portugal agreed on Friday to increase the links between their energy networks, aiming to reduce the Iberian peninsula’s isolation from European electricity and gas markets and to boost energy security.

At a summit in Lisbon, the leaders of the three countries pledged to boost alternative energy sources and routes, including liquified natural gas (LNG), at a time that Europe is facing pressure to reduce its reliance on gas from Russia.

Identifying risks to Europe’s energy supplies, the three underlined “the importance of LNG to diversify the sources and routes of EU energy supply, with a view to reducing dependence and thereby strengthening energy security,” according to a joint statement.

One possibility is the development of gas pipelines between Spain and France, over the Pyrenees, to pump gas from North Africa or elsewhere, officials said.

French President Emmanuel Macron told journalists that regulators were considering “the relevance of new gas interconnections, and in particular a gas interconnection between France and Spain”.

He added that such a pipeline could make economic sense as France turns away from coal plants.

Friday’s main concrete achievement was an agreement to build an electricity line under the Bay of Biscay from northern Spain to south-west France. It will receive 578 million euros ($675 million) from the European Commission, the biggest such investment by Europe in an energy project.

By 2025, the electricity link should raise Spain’s energy interconnection capacity close to the European target of 15 percent from six percent now.

The European Union has set a target that member states should have at least 15 percent of their electricity output connected to other countries’ networks.

“I think this meeting clearly shows our firm comitment to the (European) energy union,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told journalists.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement that boosting energy interconnections between the three countries was a step towards “strengthening the security of energy supply across Europe”.

The United States is trying to sell LNG to Europe, possibly through Portugal’s southern Sines deep water port. For that gas to reach Europe’s biggest northern economies, network connections would be necessary between Iberia and France.

Portugal is actively pushing to develop the potential of Sines.

Portugal and Spain already have a joint Iberian electricity market called MIBEL, whereby producers can sell extra capacity across the border through an auction system that started in 2014. ($1 = 0.8577 euros) (Reporting By Axel Bugge Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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