By Sergio Goncalves
LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal approved on Thursday an energy-saving plan through the end of 2023 that should allow it to meet the target for reducing gas usage set by Brussels and even surpass it at some point next year, Environment Minister Duarte Cordeiro said.
The plan, part of the European Union's push to wean itself off Russian gas, follows similar steps elsewhere in Europe and includes mandatory measures for the central administration and recommendations for municipalities and companies, with whom the government has previusly discussed the package.
The measures range from turning off indoor and outdoor lighting in public spaces, shopping centers and stores from certain hours when they are shut, to reducing decorative lighting during holiday seasons and after midnight to taking more advantage of natural daylight.
There will also be temperature limits for indoor air-conditioning and heating.
"These are simple measures, but overall they make a big difference. We must limit non-essential energy consumption without harming business activity and there is a lot of scope to save it," he told reporters.
EU energy ministers agreed in July that member countries should cut gas use by 15% in August-March. But Portugal and Spain, which have few energy interconnections with the rest of Europe, were allowed a 7% reduction if they send as much gas as possible to EU neighbours.
"We expect that these measures, together with those we have already taken, will allow for a 17% reduction sometime over the next year," Cordeiro said.
Portugal consumes around 5 million cubic meters of natural gas annually. Electricity producers use more than 45%, industry around 45% and households less than 10%.
Electricity production by gas-fired plants increased by 11% in January-July, accounting for almost half of all output, as hydro-electric generation dropped amid a severe drought.
Excluding the gas used by power generators, Portugal's gas consumption has dropped 20% this year, Cordeiro said, expecting a near 50% rise in solar-power capacity to replace overall gas consumption.
(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan)