DE RUEHTH #0091/01 0421553
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O R 111553Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1520
INFO RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 0246
RUEHKB/AMEMBASSY BAKU 0003
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 0023
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 0111
RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS UNCLAS ATHENS 000091
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: GREECE: Renewable Energy a Top Priority for New Environment
Minister Birbili; Natural Gas Also Key for Energy Mix
Renewable Energy the Wave of the Future
1. In a January 19 courtesy call ambassador paid on new Minister
for Environment, Energy, and Climate Change Tina Birbili, Birbili
underscored Greece's desire to increase renewable energy (solar and
wind) production in the country's energy mix. She spoke
passionately of her efforts to introduce new legislation (currently
in the first reading in Parliament) that would reduce the licensing
and permitting process from about five years to one. Moreover, she
added, the streamlined procedures would help increase transparency,
reduce bureaucracy, and root out corruption and unethical business
practices, which plagued the old system.
2. Birbili raised her meeting with Department of Energy
Undersecretary Kristina Johnson on the margins of the Copenhagen
Climate Change summit, reiterating her strong desire to visit the
U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO.
The ambassador encouraged greater U.S-Greek cooperation on
renewable energy and offered to assist making the NREL trip a
3. Birbili mentioned her plans for two renewable projects (one
each wind and solar) offshore in the Aegean, where she claimed the
government would not face traditional opposition for "visual
pollution" from local citizens. Despite the EU Natura 2000
directive, which provides for nature conservancy areas, Birbili was
confident that Greek public awareness was sufficiently mature to
accept more wind and solar farms.
4. The ambassador raised the Obama Administration's efforts on
energy efficiency and conservation as something Greece could
emulate. Birbili said the new, Greek government had identified
conservation and efficiency projects in the public sector as
priorities; however, there were insufficient funds to tackle these
at the moment.
Greece Lacks a Comprehensive Energy Strategy . . . .
5. Turning to broader energy issues, Birbili bemoaned the fact
that there had not been a long-term national energy plan, which she
hoped to rectify. She hoped to have a national strategy in place
by the end of 2010, addressing Greece's 20-20-20 EU climate change
commitment. This would entail increasing current levels of
renewable energy by 20%, increasing efficiency by 20%, and reducing
CO2 emissions by 20%. On conventional energy, Birbili briefed the
ambassador on Greece's plan to construct new lignite coal power
plants to replace the heavily-polluting ones. Greece has no plan
to add more lignite to its energy mix; however, Birbili said that
the cost efficiency of lignite and its local availability made it
an integral part of the country's energy security strategy, which
she could not foresee changing.
. . . . . But Natural Gas an Integral Part of the Mix
6. Birbili said that Greece is seeking to increase its use of
natural gas, which (because of the international pipelines) is
considered a geopolitical issue handled by Deputy Minister of
Foreign Affairs Spyros Kouvelis. Since November, Kouvelis has made
trips to Baku, Azerbaijan, and to Doha, Qatar, in pursuit of
Greece's energy security. Even Prime Minister Papandreou, who is
expected to make an official visit to Moscow in mid-February, is
involved, Birbili stated. She explained that Greece is working
with Italy to complete feasibility studies for the sub-Adriatic
pipeline of the Interconnector Turkey Greece Italy (ITGI), bridging
Greek and Italian markets. Birbili said that the linchpin to
ITGI's completion and success is the long-stalled gas transit and
pricing agreement between Turkey and Azerbaijan, which would allow
greater gas volumes to flow from the Caspian basin. When asked by
the ambassador about Greece's Russian gas contracts, Birbili
responded that the agreement ends in 2016 but offered no additional
insights into how or when Greece might renegotiate. Greek media is
speculating that Papandreou's upcoming trip to Russia will include
And, Oil Still in Play
7. On the Burgas-Alexandropoulis (B-A) oil pipeline, Birbili said
that Greece is following closely recent announcements by Russia and
Turkey on the alternative Samsun-Ceyhan route for Russian oil.
Acknowledging Samsun-Ceyhan competes with B-A , Birbili dismissed
Greek dependence on B-A, saying it was only a small piece of the
national energy puzzle.
"We Got Nothing" at Copenhagen
8. Birbili was strident in her criticism at the lack of progress
at Copenhagen, dismissing the accord as neither binding nor a
political agreement (reftel) . However, she conceded that
President Obama's presence was critical to the little progress
made. Birbili hoped that Mexico would offer a better opportunity
to create a real agreement. The ambassador countered that
Copenhagen was a good start, that funding commitments were made to
alleviate dislocation of the least developed economies, and that
mitigation targets were forthcoming from major economies.
Helping Greece Tackle Forest Fires to Reduce Global Warming
9. The ambassador described for Birbili ongoing U.S. efforts to
assist Greece in fighting devastating annual forest fires, citing
the more than $2 million USAID/OFDA money appropriated in 2007,
which U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and FEMA are using to conduct
training and provide technical assistance. The ambassador shared a
recent USFS assessment of Greece's fire service, highlighting one
of the conclusions recommending that Greece focus more on fire
prevention. Birbili was greatly appreciative of U.S. assistance
and admitted that the Greek Forest Service was weak, but she hoped
to rectify that.
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