by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Soaring costs are driving many countries toward more of the fossil fuels they had sought to phase out, proving the aggressive shift toward green energy to be a luxury of peacetime.
The war in Ukraine caused a spike in oil and natural gas prices, which were already creeping up before Russia’s invasion. Western governments have responded by pledging to spend even more, and faster, on scaling up renewable energy sources, but at the same time, they have committed to building more gas infrastructure and have sought to increase power generation from coal to displace gas demand and keep the industry running in the short term.
The dilemma has been especially acute for Europe, where governments have been charging a carbon price since 2005 and where there is a strong commitment to a “green transition.” The war has pitted its priorities of punishing Russia for the war, maintaining stable energy supplies, and aggressively phasing out coal directly against each other.
With the threat of gas shortages looming larger now that Russia has reduced flows to its largest customers, European leaders are readying new plans to burn more coal, forcing some governments into a position of bringing back shuttered plants and leaning on the emissions-heavy fuel longer than they had preferred.
Austria, which phased out coal in 2020, will reactivate at least one coal plant to be used under emergency conditions, while the Dutch government is lifting restrictions on power plants, enabling them to burn more coal.
The French, who are struggling with a shortage of power supply due to offline nuclear power plants in addition to gas market disruptions, are also considering keeping some coal plants available until 2024 rather than overseeing their retirements this year.