Gaz : comment l’Autriche veut sortir du piège russe

“Reduce our dependence on Russian gas” : This is the stated objective of Austria, a country which maintains strong industrial ties with Moscow. The country presented an emergency plan on Wednesday to quickly reduce the share of gas it consumes from Russia to 70%, against 80% currently. “The measures will greatly reduce our dependence on Russian gas”assured journalists the environmental minister in charge of energy Leonore Gewessler.

For the first time, the State will constitute a strategic reserve with non-Russian gas accessible to companies, making it possible to cover the country’s total consumption for two winter months. The plan presented also plans to impose the filling of all the installations hitherto unused. It is not “more acceptable” that the Gazprom subsidiary, GSA, does not store, underlined Leonore Gewessler. “If Gazprom does nothing”, other alternative providers “will have access” to infrastructure. “It is absolutely justified”. The reserves allocated to Gazprom in the Haidach center near Salzburg, one of the largest in Central Europe, are currently empty. In addition, Haidach and the other reservoirs, hitherto connected to the German network, will be connected to the Austrian network “to ensure that domestic customers can be supplied” if necessary. On Wednesday, Austria reported a storage rate of 26%, for a total capacity of 95.5 Terawatt-hours, higher than the European average and its annual consumption (89 TWh/year). According to the government, the objective is to achieve “at least 80% before the start of the next heating season”. All the measures must be adopted in the coming days by a two-thirds majority in the form of amendments to the existing law.

Fear of a gas cut

This announcement constitutes a real strategic shift for this country, which is not a member of NATO and which has 9 million inhabitants. Austria, which built its industrial success on privileged ties with Russia, was the first Western country to sign a gas delivery contract with the USSR in 1968 and cheap imports continued to increase these recent years despite the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. The Austrian group OMV has, moreover, renewed in 2018 its delivery contract with Gazprom until 2040. But the invasion by Russia of Ukraine February 24 forced the country to review its strategy, in fear of a gas cut as experienced by Poland and Bulgaria after refusing to pay their bills in rubles, a requirement of the Kremlin. Italy has agreed to submit to it. On Tuesday, the Italian energy group, Eni, 30.3% owned by the State, announced its decision to open an account in euros and another in rubles with Gazprombank in order to honor its payments for the supply of deliverable russian gas “in the next few days”. But the move could clash with Brussels, which believes opening a ruble account is a sanctions breach and would lead to EU infringement proceedings.

Renewable energies and joint purchases

Since the beginning of the conflict, the European Union has urged its Member States to reduce their dependence by 2027. In 2020, the EU received 400 billion cubic meters of gas, of which approximately 152 billion came from Russia, i.e. nearly 40% of imports. And if Brussels considers that withdrawal would take five years, a study published last March by four think tanks (Ember, E3G, RAP and Bellona) estimates that the objective could be achieved in just three years. The EU has, in fact, put forward several solutions to reduce its dependence, in particular on the acceleration of renewable energies. This Wednesday, the European Commission presented a 210 billion euro plan to this effect, which also provides for energy savings to overcome “as soon as possible” imports of Russian gas and securing European supplies. A strategy that will also make it possible to achieve the EU’s climate objectives, i.e. a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 55% by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.

Another solution is to “working together on the common purchase of natural gas, LNG and hydrogen”, as proposed by the European Council at the end of March. The Commission, for its part, announced that it would help the 27 to set up this program as of this year.