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UKRAINE

Austria rejects embargo on Russian gas

The Austrian government has said it will continue to import Russian gas and oil, despite growing pressure to impose an embargo in recent days due to the discovery of the atrocities in Bucha.

Austria will not adopt an embargo on Russian gas and oil. Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.
A new €6.6 billion plan has been announced to secure Austria's gas supplies. Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.

Austria’s Finance Minister said on Tuesday he rejects an immediate embargo on Russian energy, despite the atrocities in Bucha carried out in the war against Ukraine. 

Magnus Brunner (ÖVP) made the statement before a meeting of the Eurogroup in Luxembourg on Monday. 

Brunner said Austria, like Germany, is heavily dependent on Russian gas. While the medium-term goal is to become more independent it would be “unrealistic” to make the switch overnight. 

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg (ÖVP) has also spoken out in the Ö1-Mittagsjournal against an embargo on Russian gas, saying sanctions would hit the wrong people. 

Other sanctions are expected. 

How effective would an embargo be?

While sanctions are already biting into the Russian economy, they are expected to only result in an overall decrease of around ten percent. 

Stopping imports of Russian oil and gas – for instance on a widespread basis like a EU-wide ban – would result in far more significant damage to the Russian economy, placing greater pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Austria is heavily dependent on Russia to fulfil its energy demands, like many other countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Elisabeth Christen, Senior Economist at the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (Wifo) told The Local that 80 percent of Austria’s gas is imported from Russia and that most of the EU is heavily dependent on Russian gas.

READ MORE: How reliant is Austria on Russia for energy?

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ENERGY

‘Unimaginable’: Austria prepares to reopen coal power station

As an "emergency measure", Austria is getting ready to reopen a coal-fuelled power station near Graz amid fears there will be disruptions to the gas supply from Russia this winter.

'Unimaginable': Austria prepares to reopen coal power station

At the Mellach coal power plant in southern Austria, spider webs have taken over the conveyor belts, and plants and flowers have sprung up around the vast lot that once stored coal.

The plant, Austria’s last coal-fuelled power station, was closed in the spring of 2020, but now the government – nervous that Russia may cut its crucial gas deliveries further – has decided to get the site ready again in case it’s needed.

“I never would have imagined that we would restart the factory,” Peter Probst, a 55-year-old welder, told AFP during a visit of the plant.

“It’s really sad to be so dependent on gas,” he added.

READ ALSO: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Europe had been trying to move away from coal in the fight against climate change.

But as Russia has cut gas deliveries in the wake of sanctions the West has imposed on it for the war in Ukraine, European countries are turning back to coal.

Today, the Mellach plant’s white and red chimney stands out amid fields of corn and pumpkins, the city of Graz in the distance.

Inside, the walls are black, and coal dust clings to the doors and railings.

Some 450,000 tonnes of coal were stored at the plant before its closure as Austria’s conservative-Greens coalition aimed to have all electricity come from renewable resources by 2030.

Site manager Christof Kurzmann-Friedl says the plant operated by supplier Verbund can be ready again in “about four months” — just in time to help tackle any gas shortages in winter.

READ MORE: When will you get your cost of living ‘bonus’ payments in Austria?

Welder Peter Probst reacts to the news that the coal-fuelled power plant in Mellach will be reopened. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

“Emergency measure”

Chancellor Karl Nehammer insisted on Monday that the plant would only go online if necessary, while Austria holds on to its goals to reduce emissions.

“It’s really an emergency measure,” the conservative told foreign correspondents at a briefing.

“It’s really something that shows how extraordinary our times are… We must prepare for any eventuality.”

The 230 megawatt power plant would take over from the nearby gas-fired plant, also operated by Verbund, which currently supplies heating to Graz’s 300,000 inhabitants, according to Kurzmann-Friedl.

FOR MEMBERS: EU oil embargo: How will the sanctions impact Austria?

He warned, however, that the site must still be readied, hooking up all the equipment again, in addition to hiring qualified personnel and above all finding enough coal.

Before, the coal mainly came from mines in Poland’s Silesia region, which the Polish government is aiming to shut.

Because coal prices have risen by as much as three times since 2020, the power produced by the plant will also be more expensive, Kurzmann-Friedl said.

Criticism has already flared with the opposition Social Democrats slamming the decision to reactivate the coal plant as “an act of desperation by the Greens”.

“Will the next step be the reactivation of Zwentendorf?” the opposition asked, referring to the country’s only nuclear power plant.

The Alpine nation of nine million people has been fiercely anti-nuclear with an unprecedented vote in 1978 against nuclear energy that prevented the plant from ever opening.

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