Teresa Ribera: “If we close the nuclear plants faster, the better”

Teresa Ribera (Madrid, 1969) stands up to the European Union for granting the green seal to nuclear power and gas. She prepares Spain’s response to an error “of substance and form, which generates confusion and weakens.” In addition, she opens the door so that the dismantling of atomic energy can begin in 2023.

Nuclear energy and gas will finally have the green label of the European Union. It’s a mistake?

Yes, for reasons of substance and form. The EU’s energy classification system offers a signal to investors where to invest safely in solutions that help to rapidly decarbonize without significant environmental impact. Giving the green badge to nuclear and gas, which are affected, generates confusion and weakens the power of energies that really decarbonize very quickly. In our case, in Spain we neither need nor is there any appetite to invest in new nuclear or gas power plants.

Is the Government going to endorse this qualification of the EU?

Our intention is to be more demanding when guiding investors and their debt issues. Something will happen that other countries will probably also do and that is to create a gold label, without the nuclear ones, and another silver. In addition, we will make a legal and opportunity assessment to decide whether to resort to European justice, as Austria and Luxembourg have already announced that they will do so.

Can it affect the schedule for the closure of nuclear power plants in Spain, scheduled between 2027 and 2035?

I believe that the horizon is clear, with the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan, which we will have to review with the assessment of what has happened these years. It will mark what our objectives are and, where appropriate, perhaps an increase in ambition in 2023. It seems to me that we should only deviate upwards. I mean, if we can shut down the nukes faster, the better. I believe that this current gas price crisis in international markets shows that economically the only thing that makes sense is to accelerate the transition and be able to count on an energy system that does not have the vulnerability of a high dependence on fossil fuels in international markets.

“Perhaps we should increase the ambition on the closure of nuclear plants by 2023”

Markets affected by tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Yes. Although Russia does not represent a crucial supplier for our gas system, a higher price of its gas will end up infecting the price of gas from third countries. To this must be added the high demand from countries such as China or India. It is not easy for the supply to grow, so the price may remain high and end up affecting us.

Will the supply be assured despite the higher cost?

Obviously, a cataclysm can always happen. It’s not that it can’t happen. But I think we shouldn’t worry. Not only because we have an excellent relationship and guarantees from the most important supplier, Algeria, whose capacity is increasing, but also because we have a very powerful safety cushion with the regasification plants that exist in Europe. These allow us to be able to attract liquefied natural gas and have it regasified in Spain. Yes, there is, obviously, an element that worries us as a Government, which is how the cost of gas can impact the price of electricity.

A light that is already shot. When do you think it will hit the ceiling?

I dare not put an end date to the escalation of light. I am concerned about the situation on the Ukrainian border. In addition, China is going to continue to demand large amounts of gas and we see movements in the United States to limit its gas exports. And other providers may be tempted to raise prices. I am concerned about the impact on the domestic sphere in Spain and we will continue to work there, especially on the tax side. It is not necessary to prejudge until when. What you have to think about is whether more measures are needed for the industrial consumer.

Which would be?

We may cover fixed costs of the system, such as charges. These appear on the electricity bill, along with energy consumption, taxation and tolls. We have already lowered the charges but it is legitimate to consider whether they should be reduced further.

“I dare not put an end date to the escalation of light”

Is the creation of the public company ruled out?

Today it is not possible to nationalize or buy large electricity companies because there is no real capacity. In addition, it is not even clear that it was the best option from the point of view of public spending or that it served to make a difference on prices. Another thing is that we are aware that the system of exploitation of hydroelectric concessions does not make sense either. As these concessions run out, perhaps a publicly managed pool of hydroelectricity can be created. Or if a part is granted in concession, set the conditions well. We are analyzing and testing different options.

In what sense?

Perhaps there are small hydroelectric jumps whose concession can be attributed to a region of small high-mountain municipalities, as if it were a kind of shared self-consumption. Or if we are interested in keeping it for its storage capacity, it can be managed by Red Eléctrica or by the Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving. It may also happen that at a certain moment we constitute a small state trading company, which allows us to play with these exploitations, as some hydrographic confederations are doing for now. These become managers at the end of the concession and this allows them, in the corresponding market conditions, to have another source of income.

The emptying of the swamps forced him to take measures such as reinforcing the minimum flows. Are you satisfied with your evolution?

Yes, but in parallel to this it is obvious that the generation of energy from water is more manageable than that made from other renewable sources. The question is how has the holder of that concession used the opportunity element; when he activated the turbines and when he didn’t. There is an indication that seems quite embarrassing to me and it is the number of hours in which the price of the wholesale market has been set by the hydroelectric plant, not by gas. They are offering at the opportunity price, at which they know the gas has. It is legal, yes, but reasonable no. It seems to me to be an element, at least, to bring out the colors of those companies that, being holders of hydroelectric concessions and wanting to highlight their social commitment, have no shame in offering electricity at the most expensive price on the market.

“There are companies with a social commitment that have no shame in offering electricity at the most expensive price on the market”

Do you have on the agenda to cut the remuneration of the oldest renewables and the cogeneration and waste plants to balance the accounts of the electrical system with the overretribution that they have had due to the high prices of electricity?

We have never considered the cut. We believe that it is important to maintain this stability in an enormously complicated system that we inherited from the previous government but that we have considered better to maintain and not alter it because the original renewables, the oldest, have suffered a lot over the years. Changing the operating regime again creates a large distortion and risk of arbitrage. And the only question that we have raised with them on several occasions is that they are charging above the reasonable return that they are guaranteed and charging in advance. We want to see how far we can go so that an adjustment occurs and that either that electricity comes out at a reasonable profitability price, or that it is not paid in advance as is the case today. It’s not easy. I would say that in general there is good will, but that good will is not unanimous.

Related news

Catalonia is one of the most restrictive autonomous communities with renewables. This week the Government has announced that it is opening up to offshore wind power and plans to occupy 2.5% of the territory with wind turbines and solar panels. Is that enough for you?

I believe that one of our obligations when we are in government is to be responsible with respect to the needs of today and tomorrow. We are in the decade in which our obligation is to transform the energy system and the best solution is the one offered by renewable energies. Catalonia is an area with very high consumption due to its industrial profile, population, etc. The most important energy produced here is nuclear, coming from plants that are close to reaching the end of their useful life. I think it is a bit of an illusion to think that the electricity needs in Catalonia can be satisfied only with solar roofs. That’s why I praise offshore wind. We must reconcile environmental protection to the maximum with the importance of not wasting the opportunity and missing a train as important as this one. I think that we should expect a more courageous attitude from the Government. Let’s hope it doesn’t realize it too late.


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