While Germany has been able to gradually reduce its dependence on Russian gas since the beginning of the Ukraine invasion, nothing has changed in Austria since then. In an interview, Gerhard Roiss, former general manager of the mineral oil company OMV, now states that this will not go well in the long term. However, it is of no use if, like Green Party climate minister Leonore Gewessler, you now rely on wind turbines.
In any case, Austria’s gas supply must remain secured, but “you can’t do that if you commit yourself 80 percent to one supplier,” emphasizes Roiss to the weekly magazine “Profil”. Since 2015, OMV has become increasingly dependent on Russia. That has to change now, but not by saying goodbye to gas, as Roiss just as resolutely clarifies: “There is no alternative to gas for years to come. Even if households, commerce and industry reduce their consumption, we will continue to depend on it.”
The words are all the more piquant as Gewessler recently declared in all seriousness during a panel discussion at the Elektrotage in the Vienna City Hall: “From 2030” Austria will only be supplied with electricity from solar energy, hydroelectric power and wind power.
The ex-OMV boss vehemently contradicts: “As for the dependency on gas itself, we must be clear that we cannot replace a gas consumption of 8.5 billion cubic meters a year with wind turbines overnight.” What a gas failure for Austria would mean, Roiss also made it clear: “If there is no gas, the fertilizer industry can no longer produce fertilizer, the farmers can no longer harvest as usual, many bakers can no longer bake bread and and and.”
So Austria’s gas supply is not secured – and then the ex-OMV boss comes up with the next hammer statement: Nobody in Austria has the job of ensuring the gas supply at all. I beg your pardon? “What we lack is a state supply mandate, like we have with electricity.” Austria is equally dependent on electricity and gas. There is such a supply mandate for electricity, and that lies with Verbund AG. It doesn’t exist for gas.
The surprising solution proposed by Roiss: Now it makes sense to give the Verbund group a state gas supply contract. Then the supply of both – gas and electricity – would have to be bundled in a single company, which is already largely state-owned: “If the Verbund management receives a clear government mandate, then it will – like with electricity – buy it diversify and spread risk. Selling gas is one thing, securing gas supply for an economy is quite another.”
It could look like this: “Verbund buys its own safe gas in Norway from OMV, as well as pipeline rights and capacities in the liquid gas terminal in Rotterdam, and also diversifies gas procurement via other suppliers.”
On the part of politics, however, transparency is finally needed. It’s about a very central question, such as: “What gas quantities can OMV deliver to Austrian consumers from its own Norwegian fields at short notice?” It is therefore about transparency in terms of target quantities and time periods.”
The question remains as to what should become of OMV AG. Roiss thinks they should be privatized completely. “The Republic of Austria does not need a stake in a chemical company, which OMV wants to develop into.” That’s why the state should „withdraw from OMV in good time”. The timing is favourable: „Oil and gas prices are high, and so are energy company valuations. If the state intelligently plans the exit from OMV, it can earn five billion euros in the next three or four years, and with a bit of skill even up to ten billion euros.”
Moreover, the government shouldn’t be putting that money in its own pocket. The proceeds should go to universities, which use them to finance small “Silicon Valleys” in Austria. “The universities should design and implement these innovation zones for start-ups themselves. If we are talking about a supply mandate for gas and electricity, then I see the universities as having an innovation mandate. Universities have the intellectual capacity to offer solutions to our problems. Not politics.”
The only question that remains is whether politicians are willing to recognize this.