South EU Summit: It is well recognised that Greece has the potential to become an Energy Hub for South East Europe and the Balkan region. Key projects could make Greece an energy transfer country and also an energy producer due to the recent discoveries of gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean. In your opinion, what is the potential of the sector to act as a lever for growth and investments?
Minister Giorgos Stathakis: Infrastructure projects are of paramount importance in the realization of Greece´s potential to become an Energy Hub for South East Europe and the Balkans. I mainly refer to three major ones. The Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which is proceeding at a fast pace – 50% of the construction of TAP in Greece has already been completed, and the rest of the project is progressing rapidly. The second is IGB (Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector), which will create the Vertical Corridor, another major project which we are working on together with Bulgarian and Italian companies, we expect it to kick off in 2018, with a possible additional extension towards Serbia. The third important project is the FSRU (Floating Storage Regasification Unit) in Alexandroupoli, which may turn Northern Greece into a major natural gas hub. These are the largest projects during this phase in terms of investments. They will have a vastly positive effect on the Greek economy, due to the diffusion of their beneficial effects on both employment and natural gas suppliers, which mainly involve Greek companies. This is also the case for other major infrastructure projects that are taking place in the Southern region and involve electricity interconnections. There are four major projects, three are taking place on a national level, namely the interconnection of Crete with the Peloponnese, and moreover of Crete with Attica, and the interconnections between some of the islands. I am referring to the completion of the first phase that includes almost half of the Cyclades Islands cluster, and the second phase will include the rest of the Cyclades Islands cluster. EurAsia Interconnector is the fourth project which will connect Cyprus, Greece and Israel.
South EU Summit: With the recent connection of Crete to mainland Greece, what are your expectations with regards to the EuroAsia Interconnector?
Minister Giorgos Stathakis: The EuroAsia Interconnector is a major project which includes the connection of Cyprus and Greece – this in itself is a large scale project. We are also looking at various alternatives to streamline resources at a national level, such as Crete-Attica that will be completed by IPTO by the year 2023.
South EU Summit: In your opinion, how can these cross-border projects contribute to the regional growth and development?
Minister Giorgos Stathakis: Any project that involves more than two countries is of major importance with regard to growth and development. In this context, I would like to mention the EastMed project, which refers to the construction of a natural gas pipeline that will connect the Levantine basin with Europe. More specifically, it connects Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy, and thus constitutes another major infrastructural project. As you realize, we are talking about projects that in terms of investment, range between one and six billion Euros, these amounts are indicative of the considerable size of cross-border projects, as well as the range of the effects of such cross-border investment projects on the economy.
South EU Summit: You mentioned IPTO earlier on, which through the realization of the Greek electricity and the natural gas markets, in parallel to the privatization program, have proven to be exciting opportunities for major investors. Following the sale of the stake of IPTO, what are your expectations regarding the on-going liberalization process of the sector?
Minister Giorgos Stathakis: We have two parallel liberalization processes taking place. In the electricity, and the natural gas sectors. IPTO has found a strategic investor that is a major player in the electricity networks sector, with huge technological and capital capabilities, that will consequently facilitate IPTO to undertake major projects. Moreover, there is the ongoing process of DESFA privatization to be completed. At the same time, we have the pending divestment of 40% of PPC’s (Public Power Corporation) lignite capacity. The aforementioned privatizations are the major ones in the energy sector. We have also opened the wholesale and retail market of natural gas in Greece, in order to allow private investors to get involved in the process. I should also mention that there is a great deal of investment happening in the field of RES. We have just licensed wind farm projects, which account roughly for 2 billion Euros that will be completed by private investors, from both Greece and Europe.
South EU Summit: Can you tell us where the investors are from?
Minister Giorgos Stathakis: Companies from Italy, France and Germany have invested in large scale projects in the renewable energy sector in Greece. In addition, these will be the final projects that will be included in the feed-in support RES scheme. From now on, we will enable a new, competitive, tendering support scheme for RES, which we have designed in collaboration with the European Commission. We are currently editing the details.
South EU Summit: I also want to talk about the recent Clean Energy for All European Islands Forum that recently took place in Crete. You highlighted the importance of the sector for the future of Greece and the EU within the scope of COP21. What role do you believe that European countries should play today within the scope of the Paris Agreement?
Minister Giorgos Stathakis: We support the approach of the EU in setting ambitious targets regarding the RES goals for 2030. The ongoing discourse within the EU is about moving in two different directions; the first a fairly conservative, and the second a more ambitious direction regarding the targets to be adopted by the EU member countries. Greece supports the ambitious approach. At the same time, Greece participates in an initiative that has been launched by EU countries, especially for the transition of islands to clean energy. There are approximately 2,500 islands in 14 countries in Europe that signed this initiative in Malta last May. In September, we had the honor to launch the inaugural forum of the aforementioned initiative, ‘Clean Energy for EU islands’. We are now looking towards entering the implementation phase of this joint initiative that will result in concrete policies. The idea is straight forward, namely to support sustainable renewable energy projects, by mobilizing the necessary funds and investment needed, for the transition of mainly non-interconnected islands. The initiative also involves interconnected islands. The fundamental idea is clear. EU islands need to refrain completely from the use of petrol or mazut to meet their energy needs.
South EU Summit: During that event, the Minister of Energy for Malta, Joe Mizzi, stated that Greece has a very active role within the EU in the protection of the environment. How do you believe that this affects the image of Greece?
Minister Giorgos Stathakis: I think that it has a most positive effect on the image of Greece. We are employing strict policies for the protection of the environment. Since 1979, 28% of Greek territory belongs to the so-called ‘Natura’ network of nature protection areas. This fact indicates a very high degree of Greek protection for the natural environment, by implementing tough legislation. Added to this, we will soon complete the legislation for forest protection, which is the cumulative result of various legislative frameworks, the outcome of which is that probably more than 60% of Greek territory will enjoy a great degree of environmental protection. On top of this, we have incorporated all EU environmental protection legislation, including the regulations related to the exploration and exploitation of natural gas and oil.
South EU Summit: The US Ambassador, Geoffrey Pyatt, mentioned recently that there is a renowned interest on behalf of the US, to get actively involved in Greece’s energy sector through direct investments. What role do you believe that Greece’s energy sector is playing when shaping the international profile of the country?
Minister Giorgos Stathakis: The American interest in projects related to the diversification of routes and resources, more specifically of natural gas, increase the potential for Greece to become a hub in the Balkans and Europe. Especially the recent interest of American companies to participate in new infrastructural projects such as IGB pipeline (Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria), TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline), the FSRU in Alexandroupolis, and other projects.
South EU Summit: Looking towards 2018, what are the most important issues that should be pushed forward at an EU level to contribute to a European Energy Union?
Minister Giorgos Stathakis: In 2018, we will set our targets and the respective strategies and policies looking towards 2030. We are obviously willing to strengthen any policies that will culminate in an increased share of renewable energy within our national energy mix. At the same time, improvement of energy efficiency, which is the second pillar of the EU policy, especially in the areas of housing, transport and other sectors, will also become a new priority for our national strategy and policy. Energy efficiency improvements have the dynamics to completely change the framework within which we have been working in the last few years. We are also putting forward the plan for the creation of a single European Electricity Market. In line with this, we are creating a legislative framework for an electricity exchange market in Greece.