Europe’s aggressive leap towards “green” energy is proving to be a grave mistake.
As Europe braces for war on its eastern borders, the continent’s shift from cheap, reliable energy in the form of coal and nuclear to wind and solar has left millions, already struggling with a low-wind winter, dependent on Russian natural gas to meet baseload power needs.
After decades of transition, Europe now gets more than 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia, making the continent far more susceptible to interruptions ordered by President Vladimir Putin as he prepares a takeover of Ukraine. And it’s not just gas. Russia is the dominant supplier of Europe’s oil and solid fuels, providing 27 and 47 percent respectively, according to the EU.
European dependence on Russian energy supplies was entirely self-inflicted. More than half a dozen European countries banned fracking over the last decade, and the Kremlin has kept reserves low after the continent knee-capped its own domestic production.
Germany is most dependent on Russian gas to compensate for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. The nation continues to phase out coal and nuclear despite importing more than 70 percent of its energy supplies. The last German nuclear plants are scheduled to shut down by the end of the year, and its remaining coal plants abandoned by 2038.
“They’ve reduced the options or the bandwidth that European countries have available to them,” said Katie Tubb, a senior policy analyst for energy and environmental issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation, on Europe facing potential cutoffs. “I don’t think there is a rapid solution here in part because the EU has been going down this road currently for decades now.”
Decommissioned power plants do not come back online with the simple flip of a switch. Without coal or nuclear, natural gas is needed to fill the void left by unreliable wind and solar when they don’t produce. The continent’s fracking bans, however, have diminished its capacity to generate its own supply, leaving Europe vulnerable to Russian pressure and aggression.
Putin has weaponized Russian energy supplies before, even recently, raising European anxiety he’ll do it again even more aggressively. Last year, Putin’s refusal to ramp up European gas supplies as an energy crisis induced by a low-wind season gripped the continent was seen as an effort to strongarm officials into approving the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline into Germany. The finished pipeline would allow Russia to circumvent extensive Ukrainian networks in the event of invasion, which now appears close on the horizon.
Tubb told The Federalist a moderating factor in Putin’s decision to trim shipments is the extent to which the Kremlin relies on energy sales for income, which heightens the importance of Russia having an alternative route from what could become war-torn territory. But, Tubb cautioned, it’s “consistent to expect Russia sees its energy sector as an extension of its government and is therefore a political tool as much as it is a market participant.”
Russian dominance over European energy has already driven a fissure into western alliances, transforming Germany into an unreliable partner. Germany’s dependence was enhanced by President Joe Biden’s approval of the Nord Stream 2 last summer while the White House shut down power projects on American soil.
If not outright weaponized, Putin’s supplies have certainly bought influence, with German diplomats seeking exemptions from western sanctions so Berlin may keep its gas flow from Russia intact, according to the Wall Street Journal. Germany has also refused defensive weapons shipments to Kyiv as thousands of Russian troops descend on Ukraine’s border.
The United States, on the other hand, can’t meet German energy needs since American export terminals for liquified natural gas (LNG) are already operating above capacity. While new terminals are expected to come online this spring, Germany has no LNG terminal of its own.
The idea of a clean-energy future is not a fantasy. What is a fantasy is that such a future is achievable in the absence of nuclear power and fossil fuels, which drive innovation and adaptability to reach the aspirations for a cleaner planet. Cheap, reliable energy provides the foundation for development and new technology to emerge that enables adaptation.
Gas, coal, and nuclear are needed to offer instantaneous energy when unreliable renewables, which also pollute, fail to meet the job. Europe’s energy needs have complicated negotiations with Russia as Putin appears ready to deploy troops into Ukraine in the face of a divided opposition.