EU says independence from Russian gas is possible within years

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A display shows fuel prices in Swiss francs per litre at a BP gas station near Kemptthal, Switzerland March 6, 2022. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

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BRUSSELS, March 7 (Reuters) - The European Union could wean itself off Russian gas within years and start curbing its reliance within months, the European Commission's climate policy chief said on Monday.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has triggered energy security concerns and the European Commission on Tuesday will propose plans to diversify Europe's fossil fuel supplies away from Russia and shift faster to renewable energy.

EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said the plans would "substantially reduce our dependency on Russian gas already this year, and within years will make us independent of the import of Russian gas."

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"It's not easy, but it's feasible," he told European Parliament's environment committee.

Russia supplies around 40% of Europe's gas.

A draft of the Commission plan, seen by Reuters, would seek to cut that dependency by increasing gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from other countries, and phasing in alternative gases like hydrogen and biomethane.

Other elements would aim to build wind and solar projects faster, and ensure countries fill gas storage before winter to cushion supply shocks.

Europe's gas storage needs to be 80-90% full ahead of next winter, Timmermans said. EU gas storage was around 75% full on Sep. 30 last year.

The International Energy Agency has said Europe could dent its Russian gas imports by more than half within a year, but that doing so would require a raft of rapid measures, from swapping gas boilers for heat pumps, to hiking LNG imports.

Brussels has also urged EU countries and European Parliament to speed up negotiations on a raft of new EU climate change policies, designed to cut emissions faster this decade. The Commission estimates those proposals could cut EU gas use 23% by 2030.

While the plans should ultimately bring down costs, soaring gas prices in recent months have stoked concerns among some countries over policies that could require large upfront investments add to bills in the short term.

EU leaders may agree at a summit this week to phase out the bloc's dependency on imports of Russian fossil fuels, without a fixed date, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters.

Countries are divided, however, about whether to impose immediate sanctions on energy supplies against Russia. Germany, the biggest buyer of Russian crude oil, has rejected the idea.

Analysts have said Europe would need to use emergency measures such as closing gas-intensive industries, to cope with full halt to Russian gas imports.

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Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by David Gregorio

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