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Is Austria set for a gas price hike – and what can you do to avoid it?

E-Control, Austria's energy regulator, says they "hope" energy prices will be on their way to normal by next winter but that saving energy "is the order of the day".

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Energy prices are going up again in Lower Austria and Vienna. Photo: Magnascan / Pixabay

This week, Austria activated a “gas alert” as part of its emergency plan to ensure gas supply for the country over fears that Russia would cut off supplies if Western countries refused to make payments in rubles.

This Friday, Austria’s chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) said that the country’s gas importer OV has not received any documents on a contract change regarding the currencies, Krone reported. 

Nehammer added that the Austrian company has contracts with Russian Gazprom valid until 2024 and specifically stating payments would be made in euros and dollars. He described the Kremlin’s demand that gas be paid in rubles as a “political announcement.”

Still, Austria is currently on the first stage of a gas alert, according to an announcement made this week by the Federal Government’s Crisis Cabinet together with E-Control, the country’s energy regulator.

The Local spoke with representatives of the energy authority to understand more about the gas supply situation in Austria and the perspectives for the future.

Though the regulator reiterates that “households fall under the so-called protected customers and do not have to expect any rationing of gas consumption”, they also reinforce that every individual can help reduce gas consumption and that saving energy, overall, is the “order of the day”.

What is the “gas alert” emergency plan?

The early warning stage means that the surveillance and monitoring system that has been in place for weeks “will be tightened even further”, E-Control says.

The authority and the Austrian Gas Grid Management (AGGM), two institutions responsible for the gas market in the country, will deliver daily reports to the Climate Protection Ministry and the Federal Government.

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

There are three stages in the emergency plan. Only the third one contains the possibility of adopting energy control measures such as rationing. Even so, they do not target households but industries instead, E-Control confirmed.

What is the current situation regarding gas supply in Austria?

The gas regulator stated that there is currently a full and regular supply of natural gas from Russia, both via Ukraine and other transport routes.

The storage level is also low but not at an abnormal level for this time of the year. Therefore, even if there is a restriction or stoppage of incoming gas, that would not necessarily cause a supply problem in the country.

The country has also used less gas than in years before, with consumption in February 2022 5.3% lower than the same month in 2021, primarily due to warmer weather for the month, according to E-Control data.

What happens next winter?

“We hope that the war in Ukraine will be over by then and that gas prices will have returned to a more or less normal level so that households will not have to fear gas price increases”, according to the Austrian energy authority.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why are fuel prices increasing faster in Austria than elsewhere in the EU?

At the same time, spring is traditionally the period for refilling gas storage supply, especially after a law was passed requiring a strategic gas reserve large enough to cover gas consumption for a cold January month, E-Control explains.

“The challenge, however, is to obtain a corresponding amount of gas at reasonable prices for filling the storage facilities. Alternatives are still being worked on”.

The supply is not at risk for this cold season. Still, Austria’s energy controller said that national and European measures must be taken to support the tank filling in the coming months.

One of the alternatives includes buying liquified natural gas (LNG) that can also be used for industrial processes and heating – LNG arriving to ship terminals in Italy could be transported to the landlocked country via pipelines.

Another alternative could be buying natural gas from other producers, such as Norway.

What can private consumers do right now?

“Every individual can help to reduce gas consumption”, E-Control said.

“Saving energy is the order of the day not only at the moment but for climate protection reasons in general”.

The energy specialist highlighted that there are several ways to reduce gas consumption without sacrificing comfort. For example, lowering the room temperatures by just one degree means saving six per cent.

E-Control explains that saving energy is done in two ways: by changing habits and using modern technologies. Simply swapping old light bulbs for LED lights, for example, can bring enormous savings, which can help cut costs as energy prices continue high worldwide.

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Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.