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Europe

France, Portugal, Spain agree to build undersea power line

media (L-R) French President Emmanuel Macron, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at the Energy Interconnections Summit in Lisbon on July 27, 2018. PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP

The three countries agreed Friday to build a power line in the Bay of Biscay with the aim of integrating electricity links between the Iberian Peninsula and Europe.

After a meeting in Lisbon, leaders from the three countries announced a deal to finance construction of a power line nearly 300 kilometres long in the Bay of Biscay linking south-west France to northern Spain.

The European Commission said in a Friday statement that it will invest 578 million euros in the power line, “the largest ever awarded to an energy infrastructure project” by the EU.

The statement adds that the power line “will double by 2025 the exchange capacity between France and Spain”.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa called the Bay of Biscay line "a very important step” at a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Friday.

The Iberian countries hope the power line will allow their domestic energy companies to have a larger share in the EU electricity market. Just six percent of Spain’s electricity is currently interconnected with the EU, according to the European Commission, which has set a target of 15 percent for the coming years. 

Renewable energy boost

Leaders from the three countries said the Lisbon deal also aims to increase renewable energy production and lower carbon emissions.

Portugal is one of the EU’s “leading countries in renewables”, according to the European Commission, with “more than half of electricity consumption” supplied by sources like hydro and wind since 2014. The country has also seen cases of “renewable power production surpassing total electricity consumption”.

The deal is part of the EU’s broader energy transition, according to Macron, who reiterated on Friday that France aims to close its coal plants by 2022.

Natural gas and EU energy sovereignty

In addition to the two natural gas pipelines linking the Iberian Peninsula to France through the Pyrenees mountain range, Madrid and Lisbon would like to be build another pipeline in Catalonia, the semi-autonomous region in Spain's northeast.

However, Reuters has reported that a study commissioned by the EU found the proposed pipeline in Catalonia would not be economically viable due to the projected high costs – three billion euros in total.

For France, the project’s budget is cause for concern. But Macron said he was open to developing natural gas and potentially building more pipelines, if “gas consumption in Europe remains significant”.

Building more pipelines in Europe would further the EU’s goal of increasing its energy independence.

According to the European Commission, the bloc imports 69 percent of its natural gas. In 2017, 37 percent was imported from Russia, and nearly 20 percent from Algeria and Qatar.

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