Ukraine: What does the government’s ‘gas alert’ mean for Austria?

On Wednesday, the Austrian government activated a ‘gas alert’, the first part of its emergency plan to ensure gas supply. But what does this mean in practice?

A radiator seen up close. Photo: ri / Pixabay

Austria has activated the early warning system in the emergency plan for the country’s gas supply, the Climate Ministry announced today.

This is the first level of its emergency plan to ensure gas supply over fears that Russia could cut off supplies if Western countries refused to make payments in rubles.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Wednesday “everything will be done to ensure the gas supply for Austria’s households and businesses”.

BREAKING: Austria activates alert system over gas supply

Why was the alert activated? 

This follows Russia’s recent announcement that future gas deliveries can only be paid for with Rubles as a consequence of international sanctions resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

While many in the west have refused to pay in rubles, pointing out that payments in other currencies are allowed under the original contractual arrangements, there were fears the announcement may lead to a drop in gas supply. 

Austria’s reserve tanks are currently at 13 percent. While this seems relatively low, this has been the average in recent years.  

What is the emergency system?

The emergency system is a three-tiered plan, with several repercussions if a new level is reached. 

The stages of the emergency plan are as follows. 

I – Early warning level : This level is reached if there are concrete and reliable indications that the gas supply could deteriorate. 

II – Alert level : If the gas supply situation actually deteriorates, the second level will be declared. Businesses are encouraged to use alternatives to natural gas whenever possible. 

III – Emergency level : Gas can no longer be supplied and the current demand can no longer be met. Measures for industry, such as substituting natural gas with other energies as energy control measures, are to be put in place. 

What does this mean for me?

As yet, the impact will not reach average Austrians. 

The government confirmed to Austrian media that rationing of gas will only start at level three. 

The main impact of the alert is that the situation will be “monitored more closely” Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) said. 

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REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

Amid fears about what would happen if gas supplies to Austria were disrupted, the Federal Government has put together a package of measures to create a strategic gas reserve.

REVEALED: What is Austria's emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

It has been well reported that Austria is heavily reliant on Russian natural gas – but what would happen if supplies were suspended or stopped altogether?

Austria sources 80 percent of its gas from Russia, so the country would be seriously impacted if supplies were disrupted due to the war in Ukraine, a breakdown of diplomatic relations or any other unforeseen event. 

This is why the Federal Government has now unveiled a package of measures to protect Austria’s gas reserves in the event of an energy emergency.

READ MORE: ‘An unprecedented situation’: How would a gas embargo impact Austria?

What is in the package?

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler and Finance Minister Magnus Brunner presented the plans following a meeting in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, May 18th.

The most important points include an increase of the strategic gas reserve by 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh) to 20 TWh. This would cover Austria’s gas consumption for two winter months but the additional gas would not be sourced from Russia, according to the Kronen Zeitung

Gewessler said: “This measure will significantly reduce dependence on Russian gas.”

Increasing the strategic reserve with non-Russian supplies will reduce Austria’s dependence on Russian gas to 70 percent, Gewessler added.

Additionally, gas storage facilities located in Austria – such as the Haidach facility in Salzburg – must be connected to the Austrian gas grid. Haidach, which is supplied by Gasprom, is currently only connected to Germany’s pipeline network and has not been refilled for some time.

Finally, any unused gas in company storage facilities should be surrendered to the government if needed. Companies will be financially compensated for this.

READ ALSO: Austrian Economy Minister says gas embargo would be ‘red line’

What about next winter?

Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer has already said that gas storage facilities in Austria have to be 80 percent full before the next autumn and winter season.

The storage level is currently at 26 percent, reports Der Standard.

Gewessler also appealed to the Austrian public to make changes to help reduce the dependence on gas for energy, calling for more gas boilers to be replaced with other heating systems.

She said: “Together we are strong and together we can achieve this feat.”

READ MORE: What would an embargo on Russian oil mean for Austria?