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Regulatory Stability and Predictability Are Key for the Region
Jean-Marc Leroy, President of GIE & Senior Vice-President at ENGIE

Mr. Leroy, you are the President of GIE since November 2015. What are the main activities of the association and what are its main priorities during your presidency?

Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE) is the European association representing the interests of gas transmission, storage and LNG terminal operators. It gathers 67 members from 24 European countries. GIE is a well-recognized stakeholder in the European arena and a standing discussion partner for the European Commission, the European Parliament, regulatory bodies and other market actors.

Today, in the wake of COP21 Paris Agreement, the main priorities for GIE are to highlight the advantages of gas and gas infrastructures to act as the enabler of the Energy Transition and be part of the sustainable energy mix of tomorrow. This requires not only a proper market design and a predictable regulatory framework but also new technologies that will help decarbonize the economy. GIE members are fully committed to attaining these objectives building upon their extensive expertise and on their drive for innovative energy solutions.

GIE had its Annual Conference in Sofia this year. What was the main focus of the event and what are the key messages from it?

This year’s conference addressed some major issues for the industry – the delivery of the Energy Union, the completion of the energy market and the future energy system. A special focus was also put at Southeast Europe and the benefits that regional cooperation could offer for market development, security of supply and investment in this zone.

The conference, hosted by Bulgartransgaz, gathered high-level representatives of national governments, the European Commission, regulators, academics and the industry. It featured key speeches amongst others by the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Boyko Borissov, Energy Ministers from the region or the Vice-President of the European Commission, Maroš Šefčovič.

The conference agreed on the need to complete the creation of a fully integrated European gas market and to support market development in regions such as Southeast Europe through reinforced interconnections and operational harmonization. Moreover, it was unanimous on the enormous potential and the crucial role that gas and new gas solutions will play in driving the transformation towards a decarbonized, efficient and flexible energy system of tomorrow.

The Energy Union Strategy from February 2015 defined Southeast Europe as one of the regions with least gas connectivity. How could we overcome this and what could be the role of GIE in this process?

The Southeast Europe plays an important role in the European energy landscape. New interconnections in the region will undoubtedly facilitate market development with direct benefits for security of supply and competition.

GIE offers a unique advantage for stakeholders in the region to discuss jointly and exchange views on the best practices as regards the proper regulatory framework as well as operational aspects of gas infrastructure.

Usually the main political priorities regarding gas are related to building new infrastructure. What else should be done in terms of legislation, regulation, and competition in Southeast Europe in order to connect the national markets?

Apart from infrastructure investment, one of the key issues for the region will be to ensure regulatory stability and predictability. This will help not only to boost investment but also to enhance the development of market places and competition. To achieve that it will be vital to ensure independence of regulatory authorities as well as transparency of information that will foster market access.

The topic regarding the proposed Gas Hub “Balkan” in Bulgaria was also discussed during the conference in Sofia. What are the prospects for Bulgaria to be a natural gas distribution center for the region of Southeast Europe?

As was the case in the Northwest Europe, the emergence of regional hubs is usually a result of a gradual process of merging of different smaller balancing or market areas into one bigger market place. Bulgaria is of course well positioned to become one in the Southeast Europe region.

It should therefore seize all the opportunities to put in place sound market rules that help boost the development of competition and the creation of a large market zone supported by sufficient interconnection. There is no doubt that transparency and regulatory predictability will be the cornerstones for this development.

Natural gas is having tough times in Europe because of the low wholesale prices of electricity and the excess production. Are we really going to see the promised combination of renewables and gas in the power mix?

It is true that the ETS system does not yet create sufficient incentives to develop the most environmentally friendly energy solutions. This should change, however, in particular if we consider the COP 21 objectives and the political will to correct the system.

In this perspective, gas will undoubtedly play an important role in integrating renewable energy sources. But not only: with the development of biogas, gas will become green itself and new gas solutions will contribute to the creation of circular economy.

Innovation was one of the focuses of the Annual Conference in Sofia. What are the prospects of new technologies such as power-to-gas or transporting biogas via the existing infrastructure?

Power to gas is a perfect example of the technological bridge between electricity and gas enabling the creation of an efficient and environmentally friendly energy system. Several projects are already ongoing in Europe in this area.

As regards biomethane, which is obtained by upgrading biogas, it will lend itself easily for grid injection as is already the case in several countries such as Germany or France, for instance. Such solutions will not only help green the energy mix but will also help avoid emissions from biomass or waste. On top of that they will foster the integration of renewable energy sources such as solar, for example, offering new innovative ways of storing the sun.

Interview conducted by Atanas GEORGIEV.

This interview was first published in Bulgarian in the July'2016 issue of Utilities magazine

Since 1 July 2015, Jean-Marc Leroy is Senior Vice President at the Infrastructure Business Line of ENGIE. Prior to that, between January 2009 and July 2015, he was Chief Executive Officer of Storengy, the underground gas storage operator of ENGIE. He previously held several senior positions in the infrastructure business: Deputy Vice President of the gas transmission division at Gaz de France and responsible of LNG terminals and storage activities of GDFSuez.

Jean-Marc Leroy has been member of the GIE Board since 2005 and served as GSE President from 2008 to 2012. Mr. Leroy was elected as GIE President on 13 November 2015.

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17.09.2020  Boyana Achovski, General Secretary of the international organization Gas Infrastructure
In both short and long term, gas will continue being part of the energy mix of Southeastern Europe
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