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Arturo Gonzalo (Enagás): “Spain will spend the winter without problems; we can completely rule out a supply crisis” | Economy

The new chief executive of Enagás, Arturo Gonzalo (Madrid, 1963) attends EL PAÍS in full swing, one day after presenting the new roadmap of the manager of the Spanish gas system —which implies a radical shift in its objectives, with the security of supply as the first priority—and between meetings with international investors. The conversation, in his office, lasts for more than an hour: with the gas supply in doubt throughout Europe, energy floods practically everything.

Ask. The strategic plan contemplates three new gas interconnections: with France, with Portugal and, the biggest novelty, with Italy. Are you sure the three of them will come out ahead?

Response. All three are embedded in RepowerEU, which is the EU’s vision of how to respond to the current energy emergency caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For Enagás it is an obligation to respond to this plan with a solvent proposal, technically worked out with our neighbors, and that guarantees gas and hydrogen capacities. We are convinced that these infrastructures are going to be built, because Europe has understood that they are necessary for energy autonomy and decarbonisation. Europe needs them to happen.

P. Are you sure, then, that both will see the light?

R. I am convinced, although they can materialize in calendars that do not end up being exactly the same as those we have proposed. Perhaps in the community analysis it will be seen that something has to be brought forward or delayed, but I think we have to act with the certainty that these large infrastructures are going to be a reality.

P. When will they go into operation?

R. Both the French and Portuguese interconnections will start transporting gas in 2025 and hydrogen from 2030. The Italian one will come into operation a little later, in 2028. It will transport gas until 2039 and hydrogen from 2040.

Spain has a formidable infrastructure of regasification plants, in which both consumers and public and private actors have made a great investment.

P. As an emergency solution to supply gas to the rest of Europe, then, only the so-called Midcat would serve: the long-awaited gas pipeline with France, which has been stopped for years.

R. We are talking about a different project. The old Midcat was designed for a north-south flow and exclusively for gas. Not this one: it is a south-north flow, designed for hydrogen, although during an initial phase it can transport gas. It is very mature, because we have already acquired part of the material and the soil for the compression station. There is a lot already done, and that is why it would be the one that could enter service first.

P. What is the point of the interconnection with Italy? Until two months ago, Brussels did not even consider it.

R. In 2021 Europe consumed 500 bcm [millardos de metros cúbicos] of gas, 150 of them of Russian origin. Once the EU has decided to eliminate its energy dependency on Russia, a large part of that effort has been proposed to be carried out by reducing consumption. But it will take more. The most efficient way to bring these volumes to the markets that are going to stop receiving Russian gas is to use the existing infrastructure, and the most versatile, the most flexible and the one that best ensures security of supply are the regasification plants, that allow you to bring from anywhere in the world. Spain has a formidable infrastructure of these plants, in which both consumers and public and private actors have made a great investment. We have a large excess regasification capacity of approximately 20 bcm. And we believe that there is an opportunity to get that gas to European markets in a competitive way. Europe will continue to need gas, as a transition energy vector, until 2050.

P. Are they inspired by a gas pipeline to build that tube under the Mediterranean?

R. In the trans-Adriatic gas pipeline, of which we are partners and which today is allowing Greece, Bulgaria and Italy to have a secure source of supply. That’s the example we’re looking at.

P. The main beneficiaries of the interconnection with Italy will be the Central European countries. Can you guarantee that Spain will not end up paying for it?

R. Spain is not going to pay for it, I affirm it emphatically.

P. Are there reasons to fear for Europe’s winter gas supply?

R. In Europe, without a doubt. There is a plan to fill the underground storage that is being carried out, but if the current reduction in gas flows from Russia continues and, above all, if it is interrupted more or less definitively by Nord Stream 1, it will have a great difficulty to face the coming winter. For this reason, the most exposed countries, among which Spain is not, are already anticipating very severe contingency plans.

P. Even if the warehouse filling roadmap is met — 80% in October and 90% in November — can there be problems?

R. Underground storage is a key piece to face winter with peace of mind, and of course European countries are going to feel much more comfortable if they are able to fill them. But the risk does not disappear: if the supply is interrupted, having full storage provides comfort, but it is not enough.

P. Can Spain completely rule out a supply problem this winter?

R. Yes, we can completely rule out a supply crisis: Spain will get through the winter just fine. Here, Russian gas comes by ship, not by tube, and can be replaced by gas from other sources.

Algeria has earned our trust; he has honored his contracts and has stated time and time again that he will continue to do so.

P. However, unlike in other countries, a clear energy saving plan has not yet been implemented. Even being a different case, as you say, a certain criterion of solidarity with the rest of Europe should prevail.

R. I think we are receiving a message of awareness, that we have to adopt changes in habits that reduce consumption as quickly and effectively as possible. That message is being given consistently by the Government. The contingency plans respond to the supply uncertainty that each country has, and Spain is acting correctly.

P. What will happen to the Algerian gas supply? Shipments have dropped a lot in the last few months.

R. It is common for less gas to be used in summer [argelino] than at other times of the year: we are acting 100% according to the forecast, the contracts and the schedule. Algeria has earned our trust; he has honored his contracts and has stated time and time again that he will continue to do so. It has always complied: always, in all circumstances, since 1996 and to this day. I have no doubts or concerns about it.

P. The other side is Russia, which in June, in the middle of the war, was the second Spanish supplier.

R. It is a circumstantial thing. Russia, on average, represents approximately 10% of the gas that Spain consumes. It comes by ship, like LNG [gas natural licuado], something that is perfectly accepted in the EU sanctions regime. There is no reason of force majeure that would interrupt these contracts. Every year it happens that in June, due to the scheduling of the contracts, there is an upturn in the number of ships coming from Russia. This time, in addition, an additional element has occurred: the stoppage for maintenance of French regasification plants has caused two ships to be sent to Belgium and Spain. It is something of an exceptional, punctual nature, and in July we are already seeing how it returns to normal.

P. Doesn’t it seem paradoxical that Spain is receiving so much gas from the United States, when the fracking is it banned in Europe?

R. I understand that it may seem paradoxical, but honestly, I think it is not. Each country has its circumstances and has made its energy commitments, which respond to its territory, its regulatory framework and its characteristics of ownership of resources… The United States is something very unique, because there the owner of a piece of land is also the owner of the underground. In Europe and Spain this is not the case: here the owner of the subsoil is the State. The fracking It implies a very intensive occupation of the territory, and seeing the demographic structure of Europe and the regulatory framework, it is very difficult to imagine that it will occur on a large scale. In addition, basically, the resource is conspicuous by its absence.

P. The US is already the first Spanish supplier of natural gas. Will this trend continue?

R. It will continue to be the first supplier, and that gives us a lot of comfort. It is a strategic partner of Europe like no other. For both Spain and Europe, it is an element of great confidence.

P. Spain has been sending gas to Morocco for weeks. It is a sensitive issue: Algeria has already threatened to turn off the tap if a single molecule of it reaches that country.

R. We have certified that this gas does not originate in Algeria, and we can fully guarantee that this is the case.

P. One of the pillars of its new strategic plan is green hydrogen. When will more hydrogen flow than natural gas through the Enagás network?

R. In 2030, hydrogen will already represent a very significant part.

P. How significant?

R. In terms of volume, it is easy to think that, then, we will already be moving similar amounts of natural gas and hydrogen. In energy content it will still be lower, because it is less dense.

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