Spain and France to use planned pipeline only for hydrogen


Spain and France are dropping plans to transport natural gas via an undersea pipeline between the two countries and will instead dedicate it only to hydrogen in a bid to secure the “maximum” possible EU funding for the project.

Officials from both countries sketched out the plan ahead of a summit on Friday in Alicante, Spain, of leaders from nine European countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

French president Emmanuel Macron, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez and Portuguese prime minister António Costa will meet to discuss the pipeline from Barcelona to Marseille, and another session will take place with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to try to secure her support. The EU has prioritised hydrogen as an alternative energy source as it aims to reduce greenhouse gases to at least 55 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The decision to build a hydrogen-only undersea pipeline marks a change from October when France and Spain unveiled the idea and said it would be built first to carry natural gas before carrying hydrogen once green technologies related to the gas had matured. Some experts had questioned the feasibility of such a hybrid approach, and pointed out that it would make obtaining EU funding more difficult given Brussels’s strict rules limiting the funding of fossil fuel infrastructure.

“The rules for applying for European funding require that it’s only a hydrogen pipeline. So that’s the expectation at the moment,” said one Spanish government official. “That’s what the European Commission requires and that’s the central scenario we’re working on.”

Given the time it will take to build and the exclusion of natural gas, the undersea pipeline would not ease Europe’s current energy crisis. “This is not a piece of infrastructure that is meant to solve the current crisis. It is about the ecological transition in the future,” said the Spanish official.

The project emerged from a rift between Madrid and Paris over a proposal for the so-called Midcat pipeline across the Pyrenees, which Spain said could have helped deliver more gas to the rest of Europe from late 2023.

France disputed that timeline and opposed Midcat on environmental grounds, sparking a diplomatic dispute that also drew in Germany, which supported Midcat as a way to replace gas supplies that have been cut by Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The spat only ended when France and Spain announced the alternative undersea project.

No official budget or timeline has been announced for the undersea pipeline, which was initially dubbed BarMar, but has now been given the name H2Med in reference to hydrogen. Spain had already indicated that the project would take at least five years to build given the engineering challenges.

France and Spain along with Portugal, which is part of the project because a pipeline from its side of the Iberian peninsula would connect to the subsea link, said they will apply for EU funds for what are known as Projects of Common Interest, which can cover up to 50 per cent of qualifying initiatives.

Spanish officials said they would seek the maximum amount possible and that the Friday summit would mark the start of the process for requesting funds. The application deadline is December 15, with a decision expected early next year.

“It’s not a cheap pipeline. It’s a very big piece of infrastructure and it’s expensive,” the Spanish official said.

If the connecting pipeline from Portugal is an upgrade of existing infrastructure, it is likely it will be able to carry some natural gas, the official added.

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