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ENERGY

Spain defends MidCat gas link after Macron brush-off

Building a gas pipeline across the Pyrenees mountains is "in Europe's interest" and a project that Spain will vigorously defend despite top-level French opposition, Spain's Energy Minister said Tuesday.

spain france energy midcat
Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said Macron "doesn't like the idea of a project he sees as being in the past", referring to the older MidCat plans. Photos: Ludovic MARIN, John THYS/AFP

With Russia withholding gas deliveries to most of Europe in reaction to sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, there has been a resurgence of interest in a link to bring in much-needed supplies from Spain to the rest of the continent.

Plans for such a pipeline, known as MidCat, emerged a decade ago but were dropped in 2019 over regulatory and funding issues.

But Madrid is now pushing hard for the revival of the project with the full backing of Berlin, which has now had Russian gas deliveries via a key pipeline shut off for the indefinite future.

With six terminals, Spain has the biggest infrastructure in Europe to accept liquefied natural gas brought in by ship.

But there is currently only a very small link between the Spanish and French natural gas networks, limiting the possibility for Spain to send supplies onward to central Europe.

The MidCat would boost that capacity, but France has shown little interest in the project.

“There is no obvious need for it, there is no evidence of any need for it today nor in the future,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday after talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“I don’t understand why everyone is getting all worked up about (this pipeline) and saying it would resolve the gas crisis: it’s not true,” he told reporters.

“I’m not convinced we need more gas interconnections, which would have a bigger impact on the environment and ecosystems.”

His remarks did little to dampen Spain’s enthusiasm for the pipeline, with Energy Minister Teresa Ribera telling Onda Cero radio it was “in Europe’s interest”.

“There will be a debate, I don’t think we can rule it out solely based on a declaration by one country,” she said.

Although the MidCat pipeline would initially carry gas, Spain says it would ultimately be able to carry green hydrogen — a key energy source for the future.

Spain is hoping improved pipeline connectivity will open the way for it to become the European Union’s new hub for green hydrogen.

In his remarks, Macron raised “environmental concerns” about the pipeline, “which are not without foundation”, he said.

“All the experts are saying it’s wrong to say that a gas pipeline would be able to transport hydrogen in the future, that would have to involve a lot of extra heavy work,” he said.

But Ribera said Macron “doesn’t like the idea of a project he sees as being in the past”, referring to the older MidCat plans.

“In reality, what we’re saying is that if this third gas interconnection is built, it must be a pipeline that’s ready for the future,” she said.

La Vanguardia newspaper didn’t mince its words about the French leader’s “unpleasant” comments.

“Macron does not like the closer friendship between Spain and Germany,” it wrote.

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ENERGY

Schools, trains and hospitals: How France will handle possible electricity blackouts this winter

The French government has sent out detailed information regarding the possibility of power outages this winter as the country continues to grapple with securing energy supplies in the absence of Russian gas.

Schools, trains and hospitals: How France will handle possible electricity blackouts this winter

The French government has sent out the detailed information to local authorities for use in the event of power outages – something that the government still says is unlikely to happen.

French government officials have already clarified that any power cuts would occur when the energy grid is overly strained, in the event of the combination of unusually cold weather, ongoing problems at French nuclear plants and the failure to buy in extra power supplies from European neighbours.

“We are not saying that there are going to be power cuts, but that it is not impossible,” Olivier Véran, the government spokesperson clarified to RMC on Thursday.

If power outages are likely, information will be available on the Ecowatt website and app, which can be accessed now. Three days in advance, you will be able to see if you are in a “red” zone (meaning energy is highly strained), and one day prior, at 3pm, you will be informed as to whether your département is to be affected by a power outage the next day. Later, at 5pm you will be able to enter your personal address to see if you will be personally impacted.

“The idea is for no one to be surprised”, a government source told regional newspaper Nice Matin.

It should be noted that Corsica is not at risk of blackouts because it is not on the same electrical grid as mainland France.

READ MORE: ‘Ecowatt’: How you should use France’s new energy forecasting website?

These power outages would not occur across the entire country – instead they would affect small segments of the grid, such as individual towns or localities.

Additionally, these power outages would only take place either in the morning (between the hours of 8am and 1pm) or in the evening between the hours of 6pm and 8pm and would not affect crucial buildings such as hospitals. 

Local authorities have now been tasked with preparing an emergency response solutions in the event of a power cut in their area.

A source told the regional newspaper that local authorities will be required to present “load-shedding (power outage) plans that would reduce consumption in the areas concerned by up to 38 percent.”

According to reporting by Nice Matin, France’s inter ministerial crisis unit is working with the assumption that six to ten load shedding operations (power cuts) will be necessary over the winter period, and that these two-hour operations could affect up to six million people at a time.

The documents also provided further detail regarding how people will be impacted during such an event, which is outlined below:

Cancelled trains

If a power outage occurs, trains will likely be cancelled in the affected area to prevent passengers from finding themselves stuck in the middle of a track with the signalling system cut off. Local authorities will be left to decide how to handle city public transport such as Metro systems.

Schools

The French government said it was working alongside the Ministry of Education to develop plans to close schools in the mornings if the area is to be impacted by rolling blackouts. Leaving schools open during power outages could have negative ramifications, considering a lack of heating, alarm systems and lighting. Schools would be open again in the afternoons, as power cuts are not set to take place between 1pm and 6pm. 

Emergency locations

The French government has said that these rolling blackouts could impact up to 60 percent of the French population. However, sensitive sites, such as hospitals, police stations, gendarmeries, and fire stations will not have their power turned off, according to reporting by BFMTV.

Some industrial sites have also been placed on the priority lists to not be impacted by blackouts.

For emergencies, people are still recommended to call the number 112.

READ MORE: Emergency in France: Who to call and what to say

Severity

Power cuts will reportedly not impact an entire region or départment, but instead will be concentrated to smaller areas. 

Up to 40 percent of people in France will not be impacted by power outages due to the fact that they might be connected to a “priority line.”

Additionally, in terms of who will be affected – it will never be the same area twice in a row and none of the more-than 3,800 high-risk patients who depend on at-home medical equipment will be impacted.

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