Ambassador Pyatt’s Remarks at Athens Energy Dialogues

Ambassador Pyatt with Marissi Baliousi
Athens Energy Dialogues, Fire Side Chat

Wednesday, February 17, 2021, 12:45 p.m. 

Delivered (virtual) 

Marissi Baliousi, Editor-in-Chief Ambassador to Greece, Mr. Geoffrey Pyatt.  Your Excellency, thank you for joining us.

Ambassador Pyatt: Thank you for having me, Marissi.  It’s great to be with the Athens Energy Dialogues. 

Marissi Baliousi: Mr. Pyatt, you have stressed many times that energy is one of the most important and strongest pillars of the U.S.-Greece strategic relationship.  Do you believe that this could change under the Biden administration?

Ambassador Pyatt: Well, I think our cooperation should become even stronger, and I know it’s President Biden’s intention to further deepen the U.S.-Greece strategic relationship.  We’ve got several pillars of that around our energy cooperation.

We’ve talked many times about how important Greece’s role has become as a driver of energy security and energy diversification in Southeastern Europe.  I think it’s very important that even during this year of the pandemic, major infrastructure projects like the TAP pipeline, the IGB pipeline with Bulgaria, the floating regassification unit in Alexandroupoli, the new gas connector between Greece and North Macedonia are all moving forward.  And these are redrawing the energy map of Europe and helping to reduce dependence on Russian gas, so those are all measures that we will continue to support.

But on top of that, now, the United States has rejoined the Paris Accords, and we see fantastic prospects for deeper cooperation between Greece and the United States in the area of renewables.  This is something I’ve already discussed with Minister Skrekas.

You could also see in the very warm initial phone call between Foreign Minister Dendias and my new boss, Secretary of State Blinken, the strong focus on energy cooperation, including the critical importance that the Biden Administration places on the way in which the United States and Europe work together to advance our shared climate goals.  So I’m very excited about what we can do in that area.

And then, finally, you will have noted in the readout from the call with Secretary Blinken the continued U.S. support for the 3+1 Dialogue between Greece, Israel, Cyprus, and the United States.  Energy plays a prominent role there, and this is part of our larger strategic focus on the Eastern Mediterranean as a zone of cooperation and prosperity, but also a zone where we face strategic adversaries.

Marissi Baliousi: So do you believe that LNG will continue to play a leading role in the energy mix, and what are the prospects of further penetration of the LNG in the broader area of Southeastern Europe?  What is the role of new infrastructures, like the LNG terminal in Alexandroupoli?

Ambassador Pyatt: Really good question.  So our new Secretary of Energy, Governor Granholm, in her Senate confirmation hearing made clear that the United States was going to continue its support for LNG exports.  I’m very proud of the fact that the United States has emerged as Greece’s largest LNG importer.  These new infrastructures that I talked about like the TAP pipeline, like the FSRU, are important because they build energy resilience, energy diversification.

This is also a really important part of Greece’s energy transition.  We strongly support Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s ambitious goal of eliminating lignite power by 2028.  The only way you get there is by using gas as a bridge fuel, and we welcome the fact that much of that gas is not going to be pipeline gas from Russia now, but LNG from reliable suppliers around the world.  So we see LNG as a critical bridge fuel.

I’m also very interested when I talk to colleagues for instance at the TAP pipeline, they use this phrase, “How can we futureproof gas delivery infrastructure in Europe?” and the prospect of using this same infrastructure in the future for clean hydrogen delivery.  So LNG is going to be very important for several decades to come, at the same time that we remain critically focused on building up our renewable cooperation, where I think we’re going to have a very good story to tell in the years ahead.

Marissi Baliousi: You mentioned the Greek renewable energy market, which is about to open, and it is expected to offer significant opportunities for investments.  Do you believe that there is interest from American companies?

Ambassador Pyatt: Absolutely.  I already hear and see that interest.  This is something that I’ve discussed with Minister Skrekas and Secretary General Sdoukou.  We have big American companies like Quantum Energy, GE, Fortress Investment, Ameresco, Jasper Energy, all of which are bringing investment funds and state-of-the-art technology to Greece.  One of these companies, Quantum Energy, has the prospect of up to 400 MW of installed wind power coming on line, including what will become the largest wind power facility in all of Greece up in Macedonia.  So there’s a lot that’s happening in that area.

But this is an evolving sector, and so the technical and research cooperation between our countries is also important.  I was really glad that when Secretary Brouillette was here in December and met with the Minister of Energy and with Prime Minister Mitsotakis, he had the opportunity to kickstart some of the cooperation between our national laboratories, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and Greek institutions like FORTH.

And this will help to develop these emerging technologies.  It’s not just about wind, it’s not just about solar, it’s also about storage, it’s about smart grids.  These are all areas where American companies lead the world, and where I’m glad to say the Greek government is very focused on innovating, and this government in particular has demonstrated its willingness to leapfrog technologies.  And so we’re excited to see what’s happening out on the islands, the prospects for repurposing some of these areas that have been used in the past for lignite mining for clean energy options.  So there’s a lot happening in this space, and the United States very much wants to be a part of that story.

Marissi Baliousi: That’s good to hear.  In one of his first acts as president, Joe Biden issued an executive order returning the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement, signaling the importance of climate change under his administration.  What does this mean in practice?  What has the Biden administration done?  What other climate measures will President Biden be taking? 

Ambassador Pyatt: Really good questions, and of course this is of great interest to me as a Californian, a state that has really set the standard in terms of the transition to renewable power.  President Biden has been very clear that we approach this not as a unilateral U.S. initiative, but as part of a global coalition.  Climate change will be one of the Biden Administration’s top priorities.  The President has made that clear.  He reflected that in appointing my former boss, our former Secretary of State John Kerry, as his Envoy on these issues.  Secretary Kerry is a source of boundless energy, and I think it was probably his second or third day on the job that I saw him participating in a video meeting with European foreign ministers including Minister Varvitsiotis, so Greece is already part of that conversation.

The United States is going to reaffirm its specific climate commitments, but we also want to work with all of our international partners.  Greece is important in that regard, and as Foreign Minister Dendias and I have talked about, Greece is not just important, but it is vitally affected as a country which has one of the largest maritime borders of any EU member state. Greece is vitally affected by these issues of climate change.  So we will work together, and the answer is going to be smarter application of technology, more efficient use of resources, the transition to renewables, where, as I said, the first step will be the transition away from coal-based power to gas, and then using that as the bridge to a renewable future.

So there’s a lot that we will do together in this area, and I think you will continue to see the United States really putting itself back in the game in a very powerful way on this set of issues.

Marissi Baliousi: The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act is on the front line of American policy in the Eastern Mediterranean.  What are the prospects for the deepening of this cooperation, and how could challenges like Turkey’s aggressive and illegal behavior be addressed?

Ambassador Pyatt: So I’ll say two things here: first of all, we are strongly committed to the 3+1 process.  Secretary of State Blinken reaffirmed that to the Foreign Minister just the other day.  We see this as a mechanism to work towards a broader dynamic of regional cooperation.  That’s why we support initiatives like the East Med Gas Forum.  That’s why we support the very important signals that have come from Prime Minister Mitsotakis, from the Minister of Energy, from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that Greece supports an open architecture in these regional cooperative mechanisms, and that the guiding principle should be international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

That’s where the United States is clear.  We don’t wish to exclude anybody.  We hope that energy will become a driver of cooperation, and that already is happening, and it’s not just between Greece, Israel, and Cyprus, but the way in which you see cooperation now bringing in Egypt, bringing in Lebanon, bringing in Jordan.  All of this helps to raise economic opportunities, and we very much hope that this dialogue, including the East Med Gas Forum, where the United States has sought observer status, will keep the door open as well to Turkey.

I was very impressed in the earlier presentation by the new Cypriot Energy Minister and her strong focus on this 3+1 mechanism.  For the United States, and you referred to the East Med Act, this is part of a strategic initiative.  The 3+1 process is the diplomatic manifestation of the strategic commitment that the United States has made to our presence and our engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean, including through the important support of Congress, and in particular, Foreign Senate Relations Committee Chairman Menendez, who of course was the driver of the East Med Act along with Senator Rubio.

So we have a strong bipartisan commitment to this effort, and our challenge now as practitioners out here on the ground is to add substance to this.  There’s a lot of good operational, technical cooperation already going on, and it’s not just about the East Med Gas Pipeline.  It’s about issues of security, it’s about issues of technology.  Electricity transmission: I’m very interested to see the work continuing to go on on electricity interconnection between the countries of the East Med—Israel in particular—and Europe through Greece.  And I think as this energy transition continues, you’re going to see an increasing focus on the movement not just of BTUs or of barrels of oil, but the movement of electrons as electricity becomes the energy driver of the future.

But what’s very clear is that global demand for electricity is going to remain, and in fact will grow as the developing world catches up with the lifestyle that the rest of us have.  And we have to accomplish that development in a way that’s environmentally sustainable, and that’s where this conversation has to lead.

Marissi Baliousi: Talking about pipelines, do you believe that the Nord Stream 2 will be halted, especially after the recent concerns of the French government which suggested it should be abandoned?

Ambassador Pyatt: So this is a question of course for the shareholders in Nord Stream 2, but what I want to underline is something that the White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki underlined yesterday, which is that the U.S. position on Nord Stream 2 has not changed and is very clear.  President Biden has made clear that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal.  It’s a bad deal because it divides Europe, it exposes Ukraine and Central Europe to Russian manipulation, and because it goes against the European Union’s own stated energy and security goals.

So we’re going to continue this conversation.  President Biden has also been very clear on our commitment to our transatlantic relationship, that most of what we want to do in the world today starts with a strong transatlantic dialogue and the critically important relationship across the ocean.

So we’re going to work on this in the spirit of dialogue but also in a spirit that recognizes the real threats that we see behind Russia’s manipulation of gas and energy issues, something that I have lived through in a very personal way during my time as Ambassador to Ukraine.

Marissi Baliousi: The negative environment in the oil and gas market has led big companies to cancel investments in the upstream sector (like what happened with the Etoloakarnania block).  Do you believe that this trend could perhaps affect ExxonMobil’s operation in Crete?   

Ambassador Pyatt: So I think it’s too early to say.  That’s obviously a question for the management and shareholders of ExxonMobil, along with its partners at Hellenic Petroleum and Total.

What’s clear is that global energy demand is going to come back.  The pandemic induced an unprecedented external shock, reducing demand around the world all at once.  But we are fortunately starting to come out of that now, and I think as that process continues, companies including upstream companies, will have to make decisions about where they’re going to invest in further exploration.

But what’s also clear is that all of these energy companies, all of these energy majors, are also looking to the energy transition.  I’ve enjoyed a very close dialogue over the past few years with Hellenic Petroleum, Greece’s largest company in this space, and it’s very clear that Hellenic, just like the other major Greek companies in the energy space—Mytilineos, all the rest of them—have a clear recognition that part of their mandate, part of their obligation to their shareholders, is to develop their portfolio of renewable projects as well.

In fact, Quantum Energy and its partner 547 here is a good example of that.  It’s a Houston-based company which got its start in the shale gas and upstream oil sector, but which is now developing a renewables portfolio, and that’s what has brought it to Greece.  And we’re obviously very excited about that.

Marissi Baliousi: And one final question to sum things up: What are the prospects and the opportunities that you see in the Greek energy market?  

Ambassador Pyatt: So I think that the sky’s the limit in terms of the Greek energy market.  There has been a major change during my time here in Greece with Greece’s emergence as a major regional energy hub, and you see that in the kind of dialogues that Greece has developed with its neighbors Bulgaria, Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo.  Greece has become a very important part of energy diversification in Southeastern Europe.

Greece is also a country which is underweight relative to its potential in the renewables area, so there’s a really nice fit between the U.S. government’s renewed focus on renewable energy technology and the opportunities that Greece presents, and the strong reform focus of Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s government.

I remember a couple of years ago when I went to the inauguration of a wind power project near Patras, the operators of that project described to me the 13-year process that it took to get them from the initial conception to commissioning of the project through all the regulatory hurdles.  I know that Minister Skrekas and his team and the Prime Minister’s office are strongly committed to streamlining that.  That’s the kind of signal that American investors are looking for.  And I’m very optimistic that given those signals and given the opportunities that Greece presents, this will remain one of the real shining points of a very strong and dynamic U.S.-Greece relationship.

Marissi Baliousi: Mr. Pyatt, thank you very much for joining us and for these really interesting remarks.

Ambassador Pyatt: Good. Thank you, thanks for the good conversation, and I look forward to hearing the other remarks over the course of the day and tomorrow.

Marissi Baliousi: Thank you. Have a nice day.