Josu Jon Imaz, one of the decisive men in Basque politics at the turn of the century, has been on the command bridge of one of the main companies in the energy sector since 2014. Concentrated on his business mission, Imaz speaks little about politics, but continues to have a political outlook.
The old realistic school resists, and there we have the former president of the Basque Nationalist Party warning this past Tuesday in Bilbao that next winter could be very harsh in Europe, with possible energy restrictions. Josu Jon Imaz, CEO of Repsol, is not carried away by the magic speech according to which the war in Ukraine can stimulate a happy energy transition in Europe. According to this fantasy, the misfortune of a few would serve to accelerate the radiant future of a green and decarbonised Europe. Is not true. A difficult, uncertain and painful energy transition is coming, especially for the lowest incomes. Green is not a fairy tale.
The European Union has no real room to dispense with Russian gas in the near future unless it wants to provoke a recession with unpredictable consequences. The struggle for next winter has already begun. Russia yesterday paralyzed the shipment of gas to the European Union through the Yamal Europa gas pipeline that crosses Belarus and Poland. It is a measure with few practical consequences, since this gas pipeline has been at a minimum for months. But it is a warning sign. The restrictions that have occurred this week in Ukraine, where no serious incidents had been recorded in the transport of gas, despite the war, are also a warning sign. The Zelensky government wanted to send a new message: the Ukrainians could also cut off the flow of Russian gas that passes through their territory to the European Union, as a pressure measure. Immediately the price of fuel in the futures market has risen. May 2022, when three months have not yet passed since the start of the war. The picture could not be more worrying for Europe's energy security.
Germany and Italy, the two big economies most closely tied to Russia, are working flat out to become less dependent on cheap Siberian gas, but that takes time. Greater consumption of liquefied gas – the great strategic offer from the United States to Europe – requires regasification plants, and these cannot be improvised. Germany, for example, has none. Italy only has three, one of them very old. Building a regasification plant requires between two and three years of work. Floating plants can be used provisionally, but there are only about 52 installations of this type worldwide, highly sought after. Nor will it be easy for the fleet of methane tankers to grow rapidly: some 700 such vessels spread over all the seas.
If the war in Ukraine continues, next winter huge amounts of coal will be burned in Europe, there may be gas restrictions and there could be social unrest in the Middle East and North Africa due to the increase in the price of bread, due to the paralysis of Ukrainian wheat exports and higher grain prices. Egypt may be one of the worst hit countries.
Spain will not be at the epicenter of both storms (energy and food), but it will not be left out of the waves. The seven regasification plants that Spain has are currently acquiring great strategic value. Thanks to these installations, supply companies are reducing gas purchases from Algeria. Between January and April of this year, Spain has quadrupled its purchases of liquefied gas from the United States and has also increased imports from Nigeria. At the moment, Spain buys more gas from the United States (35%) than from Algeria (30%). No supplier reaches 40%.
The closure of the Maghreb Europe gas pipeline in November last year: Algeria's initiative in its conflict with Morocco; more North American gas supply, and a possible pressure strategy on Algeria while the long-term contracts with Sonatrach are being renegotiated.
(The Council of Ministers approves this Friday the cap on the price of gas in electricity generation. Imaz is one of the business leaders who have expressed their agreement).