BRUSSELS (AP) — A group of Western European nations led by Germany and France on Monday committed to massively ramp up the production of clean energy from wind turbines in the North Sea, to both meet climate targets and reduce their strategic energy dependence on Russia.
Their leaders also vowed to improve security around the growing underwater electricity grid so it cannot fall victim to hybrid threats. Fears of such attacks have increased since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year.
“The offshore windmills, but also the cables and the pipes on the ground, are prone to sabotage or espionage,” Belgian Prime Minister and summit host Alexander De Croo said.
Energy independence was also high on the leaders' priorities.
“We’ve seen over the past months what the impact is if you are too dependent on outsiders for the supply of energy," De Croo said, referring to the energy supply crunch over the winter when EU nations decided to start sidestepping Russian fossil fuels following the Kremlin's war on Ukraine.
"We show here by working together that we can make our electricity greener and more independent.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the group of Western countries must make sure Russian President Vladimir Putin “no longer has the means to exert pressure on us by turning off the gas tap.”
"And producing clean energy is the best way to achieve this,” he added.
The summit in Belgium’s North Sea port of Ostend is the second one to address the ever more pressing issue, and has expanded to take in nine nations — Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Britain, Ireland, Norway and Denmark.
To highlight the scale of the challenge, the nine countries now want to more than quadruple current production to 120 gigawatts by the end of the decade, and move to 300 gigawatts by 2050.
Even though German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described the North Sea as “the energy powerhouse right before our front door” that would help Europe become climate neutral, he warned that this will require countries to “think bigger” and strengthen their supply chains.
To underscore their commitments, the Netherlands, Britain, Norway and the European Union all announced new projects to boost the production of such green energy and move toward greater strategic independence.
The European Union has committed that 42.5% of total energy consumption should come from renewables by 2030, on the way to becoming a climate neutral bloc by 2050.
The meeting was also looking beyond the windmills themselves, to the ability of the power grids of offshore wind farms to bring the energy to shore and into the continent's industrial centers — sometimes thousands of miles away.
Scholz stressed that Europe’s power grids, which he described as its "lifelines,” also need to be expanded at the same pace as the wind farms so that electricity produced in the North Sea can reach industrial regions in southern Germany and elsewhere.
By RAF CASERT Associated Press
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.