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Big gas

Environmentalists should beware of arguments for gas from a renewables lobby that has been infiltrated and captured by dirty energy firms, argues PASCOE SABIDO

Alook into the gas industry’s lobbying firepower reveals the ‘David and Goliath’ battle faced by those fighting for a fossil-free fuel future. In terms of spending power, the number of lobbyists and meetings secured with the two commissioners dealing with energy and climate, industry has a massive advantage over public interest groups. The unsurprising result is that EU energy policy prioritises gas, with the prospect of locking Europe – and the countries that supply it – into a gas-fuelled future. This will be a disaster for our climate and for communities living along the proposed supply chains.

The gas industry benefits greatly from being seen as a ‘companion fuel’ with renewable energy. Some gas players have even infiltrated the renewables lobbies to make them pro-gas. In January 2015 the Guardian’s Arthur Neslen revealed that gas companies such as Total, E On, Iberdrola, and Enel used their investments in renewables to join the solar and wind lobbies and take over their boards.

According to staff at the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (now called Solar Power Europe), the orders ‘to argue for a renewable-gas alliance as the answer to Europe’s energy security concerns’ came from its then-president, Oliver Schaefer, who was also the marketing director at one of fossil fuel giant Total’s solar subsidiaries.

The current Solar Power Europe CEO, James Watson, was a former director at Weber Shandwick, the same PR firm behind the gas-renewables partnerships underpinning GasNaturally. The firm launched this campaign on behalf of the trade association coalition to ensure gas was not dropped when the EU was planning its 2050 decarbonisation strategy. At the launch of the scheme, GasNaturally president François-Régis Mouton said, ‘Gas and renewables go hand in hand to achieve secure supplies with lower emissions.’

Weber Shandwick is still using the tactic, recently launching the ‘#MakePowerClean’ campaign, a common front of renewable energy associations and the gas industry in a fight against subsidies for inefficient coal plants. Once again the gas industry is able to portray its business as ‘clean’ by contrasting it with coal, at the same time as cosying up to the renewables lobby – despite the dirty truth that emissions from gas are as bad for the climate.

The European Wind Energy Association (now WindEurope) also suffered from infiltration, duly lowering its 2030 EU renewable energy target from 45 per cent to 30 per cent. The extent of the renewables lobby takeover can be seen in the way that board members Iberdrola, Enel and other utilities argued against any form of renewables target and instead pushed for support of gas.

The gas lobby’s story is that gas is clean, the natural partner of renewables and offers a transition to a decarbonised world. Therefore we need more gas infrastructure. It’s a powerful and politically attractive narrative – but it isn’t true.

Gas is far from being a clean, green fuel. Fracked gas is notoriously polluting but conventional gas can also have a bigger carbon footprint than oil and even coal. This is because of leaks of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.

The science is clear. We need to leave at least 80 per cent of known fossil fuels in the ground if we are to have any chance of fighting catastrophic climate change – and this includes gas. Furthermore, gas is not a companion for renewable energy but a competitor.

The gas industry argues that the expansion of renewables requires the use of gas to maintain ‘baseload power’ (energy that can be supplied consistently around the clock). The wind doesn’t blow all the time and there’s no sunlight at night. But the idea that big power stations are needed to provide baseload is increasingly outdated, and even energy regulators, such as the head of the UK’s National Grid, accept this now.

Thus, the gas industry’s story is built on false assumptions. Investing in big gas infrastructure risks locking us into using gas for decades and slowing down the transition to renewable energy.

The gas industry spent more than €100 million (£88 million) on lobbying in 2016, while public interest groups working against an expansion of gas infrastructure spent barely three per cent of that sum. So the EU has bought the industry spin that gas is a ‘clean’ fuel to partner renewables.

Rather than transforming the energy system towards wind, sun, and wave power and reducing energy use, the gas lobby’s tactics have ensured that the European Commission and national governments are underwriting an industry wish list of new gas projects. In the face of their efforts to spread the myth that gas is a clean fuel, we need to tell them to pipe down.

For more, see ‘The Great Gas Lock-In’ at www.corporateeurope.org

RED PEPPER Dec | Jan 2018 10

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