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The coal plant in Mellach , Source: TM 04 04 on Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Austria backtracking on 2020 coal exit because of Gazprom

Austria backtracking on 2020 coal exit because of Gazprom

As Russia disrupts gas supplies to EU countries, many are getting ready to meet demand by using coal

Last Sunday, the Austrian government announced that the Mellach power plant near the city of Graz will be converted so that during emergencies it can start burning coal again. In a lot of ways, this decision is hugely symbolic, as the Mellach plant was the last in the country to shut down, following the Austrian coal exit in 2020.

As the war in Ukraine rages on, Russian state energy giant Gazprom has cut or reduced supplies to many EU countries, including Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Austria and Slovakia. The situation has prompted a veritable scramble among governments across the bloc who are desperately trying to fill their natural gas storage facilities before winter rolls around.

The upcoming Czech EU Presidency echoes lawmakers’ fears as their published programme puts a clear emphasis on energy security over green energy transition. The German government has also announced that it will use coal to supplement energy generation, while Robert Habeck, Minister for Economy and Climate Action, announced that the federal government will ask businesses to curb their consumption.

Russia – an unreliable energy partner

Back on Saturday, Austria’s Climate Protection and Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler said in a written statement that Russia was no longer a reliable energy partner, which put her country in emergency gas supply mode.  

This includes the Mellach coal power plant, which was closed down on 17 April 2020, following a government announcement, saying the country was officially off coal. The victory of sustainable energy, however, seems to have been declared prematurely, as now it will take months to re-equip the former plant to run on coal again. It will be used in the event that other means are unable to meet winter’s demands for electricity and district heating.

Nevertheless, Gewessler was quoted by the ORF, the Austrian national broadcasting agency, explaining that this would reduce the country’s dependency on Russia and would close the door to what she dubbed ‘energy blackmail’.

Now, authorities are trying to fill Austria’s vast gas storage facilities, with the goal set at 80% capacity by 1 November 2022. This may prove a challenge, as, according to government sources, storage facilities were 39% full in mid-June. Austria has vast gas storing capacities, capable of providing energy for up to a year for the entire country if they are 100% full.

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