Amendment could cause gas price decline

The head of energy sector watchdog E-Control has disclosed his plans for fairer gas prices.

Walter Boltz told the Kurier today (Thurs) that a change of the current gas market law was planned for the beginning of next year. He said this step would allow Austrian firms to acquire transit gas. Boltz said it was “absurd” that gas was transported through the country from Russia to Germany from where domestic providers must acquire it to sell it to their customers. He said this complex procedure avoided significant price decreases.

Germany has high gas reserves because of these procedures, according to Boltz – who revealed that the consumer prices of many of the country’s gas suppliers were lower than those of their Austrian counterparts. Boltz told the Kurier he was hoping for several new providers of gas to compete in Austria – where the gas market was liberalised in 2002, one year after the electricity sector – from 2013. He pointed out that Austrians could call on cartel authorities from next winter if they felt disadvantaged by gas companies as far as prices were regarded.

“Only 0.5 to 0.6 per cent of Austrian gas customers are changing their suppliers. This is a humiliating rate,” Boltz told the Kurier. He added that 15 per cent of Germans which used gas to heat their homes opted for a switch at least once. He admitted being “concerned” about the high prices in Austria. Residents of the country paid comparably little for gas in the first few years after the liberalisation of the market, according to Boltz. “Now Italy’s gas prices are lower than Austria’s. Italy used to have extraordinarily high consumer prices for gas,” he said.

E-Control officials want to enable Austrians to change their gas providers within three weeks. The same should apply for electricity companies’ services, according to the authority which has been headed by Boltz since 2001. Providers of gas and electricity are currently obliged to finalise the change within six weeks. They must not issue any surcharges on customers interested in using a rival’s services, according to the law. Boltz said the plan was to reduce the maximum time for a change of the provider of gas and electricity to three weeks. Now it is up to the Austrian parliament to decide.

Austrian electricity suppliers’ consumer prices should be at least 10 per cent lower, according to Boltz who claimed that Austrians would save significant sums if the enterprises would pass on global trading price developments to their clients. The price of gas rose by 11 per cent from February 2011 to the same month of this year.

Prices shot up by 19.6 per cent overall in Austria between 2002 – when the country introduced the Euro – to 2012. The increase followed a rise of 20.1 per cent from 1992 to 2002. Especially heating oil (plus 42.2 per cent) became more expensive between 1992 and the year the Euro replaced the Schilling as the official Austrian currency.

Around 739,000 Austrian households sued heating oil or liquid gas in 2010, down by 19 per cent compared to 2004. The number of homes with natural gas heating systems inched up by four per cent to 938,000 at the same time. More than 259,000 households had electricity heating two years ago. This is a decline of three per cent compared to 2004. Solar energy systems became more popular from 2004 to 2010 (31,000; plus 105 per cent).