Baku has gathered a large number of high-ranking officials of the region for the 9th meeting of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) Advisory Council, which is being held today in the capital of Azerbaijan.

The event was opened by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, while Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy in the Bureau of Energy Resources Laura Lochman spoke at the opening ceremony.

On the eve of the Council meeting, Report took an exclusive interview with Lochman, in which she spoke about the attitude towards energy projects implemented by Azerbaijan, about cooperation between Azerbaijan and the US in the field of energy and future plans.

– As part of your visit you’ve held several meetings. What talks have you had and have any agreements been reached so far?

– I had the honor of meeting with President Ilham Aliyev and we talked about the extremely important role that Azerbaijan has been increasingly playing and continues to play in the energy security of the region and of Europe, as well. We also spoke of the role that renewables and energy transition will have, the greater use of wind and solar, potentially hydrogen as well not only for domestic use in Azerbaijan but also potential export through electricity or pipelines to Europe to contribute to broader energy security and to our climate goals.

– What about the meetings at the ministerial level?

– We had a great discussion with the minister of energy and his team to delve a little bit more about some resources development in Azerbaijan and the exciting plans, in particular, on renewables. There is enormous potential for wind power in Azerbaijan that can be used to replace the use of natural gas in some circumstances, but also can be potentially exported. The proposal now is to export resources from Azerbaijan through Georgia to the Black Sea and connect with Europe to increase energy security and make progress towards the climate goals of the continent.

– You have mentioned energy security. Considering the current energy crisis, how do you see the role of Azerbaijan in ensuring Europe’s energy security? What’s the role of Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) in it?

– The European continent is going through an energy challenge right now, which was provoked by Russia’s illegal and unjustified war in Ukraine. Thus, the European countries are trying very hard to significantly reduce or eliminate their reliance on Russian supplies as those are clearly not reliable sources. We all need to diversify our sources of energy as well. The Southern Gas Corridor has been playing a role historically, it was a huge project to bring together the governments and the private sector to get the SGC in place and now we see the benefits of it, and the success of that and hope for its expansion in the future as well.

– The BTC and SGC projects had been delayed due to funding challenges and a lack of political support from many parties. Does the US aim to show political support for countries and companies that are involved in an expansion project to help its funding?

– The US was very supportive of the proposal for the Southern Gas Corridor from the beginning and while we understand that it is very important for all of us to be transitioning towards new sources of energy that are less polluting, at the same time we understand that for the next few years natural gas, in particular, will continue to be important in our current energy security. Therefore, it would be good to see expanded use of existing infrastructure that has proven successful like the Southern Gas Corridor.

– In your opinion what will be the main sources of gas for expanded SGC? Turkmenistan, Israel, Egypt any other?

– Azerbaijan right now is projected to be the most significant source. We talked this morning with the energy minister and the president about the ongoing efforts to continue developing resources in Azerbaijan for natural gas. Yes, it could be possible that natural gas from other parts of the region are also brought into the Southern Gas Corridor, potentially from Turkmenistan as you say, and then you need to expand the infrastructure along the Southern Gas Corridor to accommodate all of that supply. There are other regions, you pointed at the Eastern Mediterranean, and there are projects there in Israel, in Egypt, in Cyprus potentially, and in Greece that are also expanding this supply that will contribute to energy security in Europe.

– Can the US or its private companies play role in renewable energy projects of Azerbaijan and the country’s efforts to become fully “green”?

– First of all, I would to again applaud the efforts here in Azerbaijan. I think it’s the vision of the government as well as of the companies to invest in renewables. The US companies have very well-developed technologies and that can definitely be part of the development in the Caucasus and the Caspian region.

– But do you see interest from these companies?

– I think there is interest from European, US, and Middle Eastern companies in investing. These companies found it to be a good investment climate and a good strategically located place to do business. I think you will continue to see significant investment in renewables sector here.

– How do you see the possibilities of creating a green energy zone on the liberated territories of Azerbaijan, as well as using its wind and solar potential in this regard? Can we expect any support in this regard from the US?

– The president this morning was talking about the potential of offshore wind being enormous and amounting to a hundred and fifty-seven gigawatts. Then if you add the onshore wind potential, which is significant, including in the liberated territories, then you have almost unlimited potential. That’s the potential and that’s very attractive to investors.

– Do you think the US would be interested in supporting Azerbaijan in these plans?

– Yes, from the government perspective we completely agree that these resources need to be developed to the maximum to eventually replace the use of fossil fuels and to meet our climate goals so we’re very supportive.

– Azerbaijan and US have a long history of cooperation in the energy sector. How do you assess the overall partnership?

– I think a lot of cooperation has been through our companies, which is the way it should be as these companies are the developers of the technology and implementors of the projects. US government, financial agencies can also at times back those, so that’s always a potential, particularly for renewable projects. We’re all looking to support viable commercial and renewable projects.

– Turkmenistan has huge gas reserves, but it is still supplying gas only on its border. Can the US promote the further delivery of Turkmen gas to the EU?

– From our perspective yes, that would make sense, because there’s a lot of gas being flared in Turkmenistan and if it were possible to capture that gas then you reduce the methane emissions and you bring greater supply to improve the energy security of the region.

– Tomorrow the 9th SGC Advisory Council will be held. What are your expectations from the meeting?

– First of all, it’s very commendable that they’re adding the workstream of the green corridor, so it will be very interesting to hear the Council members discuss how they’re going to implement that vision. I know there will be other ideas that emerge as well so we’re eager to hear those.

– But what do you think will be the main focus of the meeting?

– We’ll be talking about SGC expansion, which will be based on demand. So at this point in time my understanding is that they are looking at how much demand there is for additional natural gas. Then we’ll devise their plans to meet that demand.

– European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson has recently announced that European Commission in cooperation with EBRD is planning to financially support the expansion of the Southern Gas Corridor. Is the US planning to do something similar?