Virgil Popescu, Minister of Energy: “The exploitation of Black Sea gas cannot start earlier than 2024-2025”
“We want to amend the energy and gas law to transpose Directive 944/2019 which will contribute to achieving the objectives of energy – climate change, in line with the European trend. As a ministry, the number one priority is to attract investment and develop projects in low-carbon capacities / technologies that can also contribute to the aforementioned national and European climate change target,” Virgil Popescu, Minister of Energy, told The Diplomat-Bucharest.
“Offshore wind farm law is also a priority, as the offshore wind sector is a very important segment that will attract most of the long-term investment. From this perspective, Romania is on the verge of a new wave of investments which could make it a net exporter of energy.”
What are the 2021 priorities of the Ministry of Energy?
We want to amend the energy and gas law to transpose Directive 944/2019 which will contribute to achieving the objectives of energy – climate change, in line with the European trend. As a ministry, the number one priority is to attract investment and develop projects in low-carbon capacities / technologies that can also contribute to the aforementioned national and European climate change target.
Offshore wind farm law is also a priority, as the offshore wind sector is a very important segment that will attract most of the long-term investment. From this perspective, Romania is on the verge of a new wave of investments which could make it a net exporter of energy.
As for the exploitation of Black Sea gas, it cannot start earlier than 2024-2025, if the investment decision is made during this year.
What the Black Sea operators want – and we have put ourselves in the governing program of both the National Liberal Party and the PNL-USR PLUS-UDMR alliance – is to amend the offshore law in such a way as to stimulate these investments and we will make this change later this year.
But we also agreed in the coalition, this will have to be done in Parliament, because we want a coalition as broad as possible on this issue, precisely because of what happened in 2018 when we were in Parliament in The Industry and Services Commission and, if you remember what discussions there were and how a project given by the Government in Parliament, on a solid majority of PSD, by a PSD Government, was completely slaughtered in Parliament. We want not to repeat the mistake of those from PSD.
The list also includes the restructuring of the CE Oltenia and the CE Hunedoara. The CEH is in procedure on Ordinance 60, the reorganization process is being carried out and we are in discussion with the judicial administrator to divide the company into two entities, one of them being the Mintia thermal power plant, which should go to the local administration and the other from Parishioners together with Mine Closures to become profitable.
The CEO is in the process of restructuring, a process approved last year in the government and we are negotiating with the European Commission for restructuring aid. The energy mix necessary for CE Oltenia to become a less polluting company and to further support the country’s national economy will be ensured. With regard to the Commission, we will continue to provide solutions to clarify all its questions with a view to finalizing the Restructuring Plan as soon as possible. There are companies that Romania needs, and their development and modernization are among the main concerns of the Government.
Regarding the restructuring of the National Uranium Company: we are in a very advanced stage to ensure the maintenance of an entire nuclear circuit in Romania, within a single company – Societatea Nationala Nuclearelectrica SA. Specifically, we are in the final stage for the elaboration and adoption of the Government Decision to close the Crucea-Botușana mine in Suceava County, and work will be done there only until the open panels are exhausted and then the closure, conservation procedures will begin, greening and monitoring. It is one of the largest Closure Plans for Mining in Romania. Then, regarding the sale of assets from the Feldioara Platform, here we have an offer expressed by SNN and we also have a CNU evaluation procedure, which will be subject to corporate governance procedures, followed by a negotiation session between the two parties. I talked to the SNN management and I know that they have important plans for Feldioara, both in terms of the size of the workforce and the investment dimension. At the end of the transaction, the amount obtained will be used to return the state aid obtained by CNU 5 years ago and thus we will fulfil the obligations to the European Commission. In parallel, the transfer procedure of the license from Tulgheș-Grințieș, from CNU to SNN, in order to ensure the integrated nuclear circuit, from uranium ore to nuclear fuel and then to the Cernavoda Nuclear Power Plant, is underway.
With the closure of the mining activity at Crucea, with the transfer of the license from Tulgheș, with the transfer of assets from Feldioara, we can finally talk about an integrated nuclear circuit in Romania and we can also talk about the de facto restructuring of the CNU.
It was a laborious effort, for which a lot of work was done both in the ministry and in the CNU and SNN and I want to thank all those involved for the responsibility they showed.
Listing on the stock exchange of a minority package at Hidrolectrica. As I have already stated, the state must be the majority shareholder in companies of national strategic interest in the field of energy. These listings represent, in fact, the chance to make investments that will benefit all Romanians.
Liquidity on the Bucharest Stock Exchange exceeded the threshold of 1 billion lei, registering an increase of 6% compared to last year, according to the report of the Bucharest Stock Exchange, so it is in the interest of the Romanian state to have as many companies listed on the stock exchange because the capital market ensures our performance and a correct evaluation that will lead to additional cash flows to the budget and automatically to the development of the national economy.
Two other priorities that I want to emphasize are accessing the Modernization Fund for the production of electricity from renewable sources and energy efficiency programs, for example “ELECTRIC UP”, but also other project proposals.
What steps will you take for energy suppliers who send customers estimated consumption bills?
I requested a point of view from ANRE, which issued a regulation in this regard. At the same time, I asked the ANPC to verify these practices. The ANRE Order on the estimates made by those who provide these services must be amended, redone and updated, to take into account current market conditions, liberalization, competition.
What solutions do you propose for qualified and professional human resources to be preserved in the national energy sector?
Strengthening the legislative framework contained in ordinance 109 and implementing its provisions. Since taking office, we have sought to depoliticize and strengthen the professionalism of the sector I represent and more. We leave behind non-performing practices. I categorically support energy professionals and assure them that, together, we are able to develop and implement those strategies that promote the security of the energy system.
On this occasion, I would like to congratulate those who have made great efforts lately, especially in ensuring the adequacy of the system by maintaining it in operation and I expect that they will show the same professionalism and competence in the future.
At what stage are the discussions regarding the acquisition of Elcen by the Bucharest City Hall?
We are in talks with the City Hall of Bucharest. As you know, the General City Hall has expressed its intention to buy Elcen. I have fully expressed my agreement, there are some procedural steps to follow, but I am sure that things will proceed naturally in order to materialize this desideratum.
What is the stage of the legal process that defines the vulnerable energy consumer? When will it be approved?
It is an expected law, and the project was completed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection. It is to be approved by the Government, after which it will be sent to the Parliament to be debated and approved in the next period. These financial support measures will finally come to the aid of the people who really need it.