Geopolitical activity heightens for TAP work launch ceremony

Tomorrow’s ceremony to launch construction work for the Greek segment of TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline) carries double symbolic meaning. On the one hand, it will mark the first concrete step of a project pivotal to the government’s long-heralded energy policy seeking to establish Greece as a regional energy hub and gateway to the Balkans. On the other hand, the launch for the TAP project, promising 1.5 billion euros of direct private-sector investments, provides Greece with needed investment credibility at a crucial time. The first review of the country’s third bailout package is approaching completion and the government is pursuing a multi-leveled effort to attract investments to Greece’s battered economy.

Officials are expected to maneuver on the sidelines of the ceremony in Thessaloniki, today, tomorrow and Wednesday, especially for energy-sector projects still not confirmed, such as the Greek-Bulgarian IGB natural gas pipeline project and the floating LNG terminal in Alexandroupoli, northeastern Greece.

The country’s energy minister Panos Skourletis will have the opportunity to meet with interested parties and propel the prospects of these projects. A planned meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart Temenuzhka Petkova ranks as one of the most vital on the minister’s agenda. Besides the LNG station in Alexandroupoli, the two ministers are expected to also discuss the prospective IGB project, set to enter a crucial second-round market test requiring binding offers from interested traders, probably around June or July.

Meetings will also be held with a delegation representing US firm Cheniere Energy, primarily active in LNG-related businesses, which is seemingly showing renewed interest in the Alexandroupoli project. It remains to be seen whether Cheniere could limit its involvement to trading activity or also take on some risk by investing in the LNG station’s development.

As has been announced, the Greek energy minsiter’s agenda also includes meetings with Amos Hochstein, the US Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs, Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president responsible for Energy Union, and Ian Bradshaw, TAP’s Managing Director.

Also, according to Azeri media reports, Socar president Rovnag Abdullayev, expected in Thessaloniki for the TAP ceremony, will meet with Greek government officials on the delayed sale of DESFA, Greece’s natural gas grid operator, stagnant over the past three years following European Commission intervention over EU competition and energy security concerns. Socar had agreed to acquire a 66 percent stake of DESFA as the winning bidder of an international tender before Brussels stepped in to demand that the Azeri company surrender 17 percent to a European operator.

The TAP pipeline, planned to run a total of 773 kilometers, including 550 kilometers within Greece, across the country’s north, is scheduled to begin operating in 2019. It will carry natural gas from the Shah Deniz II deposit to the Balkans and Europe.

A total of some 150 Greek firms are expected to be commissioned contracts and sub-contracts for the TAP project’s construction, to create an estimated 8,000 jobs in Greece.