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Energy Minister Stathakis’ Houston Visit Heralds New Energy Future for Greece

March 23, 2019
James Cargas

HOUSTON – George Stathakis, Greece’s Minister of Environment and Energy, visited Texas last week to meet with energy industry leaders and the many Hellenes working in various segments of the energy sector both in the industry and academia.

Stathakis also led a discussion in Houston on the Eastern Mediterranean natural gas revolution at the annual Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) Week.

Houston Consul General, Ioannis Stamatekos hosted Minister Stathakis and was proud to welcome him back to the city known as the Energy Capital.

Stathakis pointed out that Greece’s first shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 2018 came from Texas. “It was carried on a Greek ship.”

Stathakis was accompanied by Loudovilos Kotsonopoulos, Head of the Minister’s cabinet, and First Counselor, Nikolaos Yotopoulos.

In addition to his duties as Environment and Energy Minister, Stathakis is an elected member of the Hellenic Parliament from Chania, Crete. Prior to joining SYRIZA and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ inner circle in 2012, Stathakis was Vice-Rector of the University of Crete where he taught political economy.

The increased importance of energy to Greece is evident from Tsipras’ request to his trusted advisor Stathakis in 2016 to step down as Minister of Economy, Infrastructure, Shipping and Tourism to become Environment and Energy Minister. Since then, Stathakis has embraced his new position and led an international effort that places Greece at the center of newer and cleaner energy alternatives.

“Greece is becoming an important energy player in the Eastern Mediterranean,” observed Dr. Michael Nikolaou, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Houston.

During a Lenten fare reception at the Greek Consulate, Stathakis acknowledged that there are many transformations happening in the Greek energy sector, but focused on three major developments. First, “we are producing one-third of our energy through renewables already,” he said. Second, “Greece is becoming a major hub, particularly for gas.”  And third, “we have liberalized electricity and gas markets both wholesale and retail.”

EMBRACING RENEWABLE ENERGY

“We are doing very well,” Stathakis said of the rapid expansion of renewable energy generation sources like wind, solar, and geothermal. Greece has already exceeded its 2020 target of 18% of energy production from renewables. He shared Greece’s goal of producing “almost 60%” of its electricity from renewables by 2030. This too would exceed the target set by the European Union.

The rapid expansion of clean renewable energy will enable Greece to further reduce its use of “Greek coal” as Stathakis referred to the low-value brown lignite coal mined in Greece, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Replacing electricity generation from lignite with renewable generation will not only improve the health of the planet, but also the immediate well-being of the Greek environment on which the thriving tourism industry depends.

George Vassilellis, Chief Reservoir Engineer for Baker Hughes GE, met Stathakis and shared his enthusiasm for Greece’s energy future, “Renewable energy together with natural gas and oil development presents the perfect mix for energy independence, innovation and trade, that has eluded Greece in the past.” He also pointed to the many Greeks and Greek-Americans present who work in the energy industry in Houston, and noted that there is “an indigenous and dynamic workforce that is currently expatriated by lack of domestic opportunities.”

EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN HUB

Minister Stathakis was part of a CERA Week panel focused on recent natural gas discoveries in Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel, and how they are transforming economic and geopolitical ties in the Eastern Mediterranean. Other panelists included: Tarek El Molla, Egypt’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources; Yiorgos Lakkotrypis, Cyprus’ Minister of Energy, Commerce and Industry; and Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Energy. CERA Week is an annual five-day international gathering in Houston of over 4,000 energy industry and government leaders from 75 different countries.

“We have just established the East Mediterranean Gas Forum in Cairo,” Stathakis said in reference to the formation of a seven-member coordination framework that includes his fellow panelists’ countries as well as Jordan, Italy, and the Palestinian Authority. The Gas Forum is based in Cairo and aims to ensure a balance of supply and demand by optimizing resource development through coordination and prioritization of infrastructure development.

Stathakis acknowledged, “there are very separate projects that each and every country might feel much more attached to,” as some countries favor pipeline construction while others see the potential for LNG shipments. He saw great promise in the Gas Forum “approaching the issue of having a common framework,” so that “instead of trying to promote each and every [project] in terms of national interest,” the member countries will “have a more common understanding, to find the way competitive projects will be accommodated.” He sees it as a non-competitive and cooperative approach.

 

In addition to Texas LNG coming to Greece, Stathakis listed several major pipelines bringing gas to Europe through Greece, making Greece a new natural gas hub. “The Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is the most famous of all because it will bring Azerbaijani gas to Italy through Greece,” he said. TAP construction began in 2016 and is scheduled to be completed in 2020. Its total budget is estimated at 4.5 billion euros.

Stathakis was also optimistic about the proposed 2,000 mile EastMed Pipeline linking the European Union to Eastern Mediterranean gas supplies through Greek territory and waters. With detailed cost estimates at 6 billion euro, he sees it as commercially viable. “We have reached the point where we do know with accuracy what the prospects are, the technical requirements, and the commercial requirements,” he added.

OPENING GREEK ENERGY MARKETS

“We have liberalized electricity and gas markets wholesale and retail,” Stathakis told a room full of 50 Hellenes working in various segments of the energy sector and academia.

Stathakis explained how Greece has opened its internal markets to deregulation and private competition. This has required the Greek Government to auction off some of its energy assets to the private sector. It has also introduced feed-in premiums, competitive tenders, and virtual net metering as ways to boost the transition to renewable energy. In many ways, the Greek energy markets are becoming more similar to open American energy markets.

He explained further how Greece is associating its internal markets with markets in neighboring countries. This international unification of markets has begun with Italy as the most obvious first neighbor.
Dr. Nikolaou, who was born in Athens, found the Energy Minister’s visit to Houston “reassuring of the Greek interest in the energy sector.” Everyone is looking forward to Minister Stathakis’ next visit to the Energy Capital.

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