MILAN — Pressure from Italy to quickly reduce its reliance on Russian natural gas has made the country less vulnerable to a supply disruption, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Wednesday, pointing out that the gas storage facility is 80% full before the winter and on track to close. to reach 90% in October.
Draghi told an annual summer festival in the Adriatic coastal city of Rimini that Italy has cut its dependence on Russian natural gas from 40% last year to half by finding new sources in countries from Algeria to Azerbaijan. The fuel is used to heat and cool houses, generate electricity and run factories.
Italy could be completely independent from Russia by the fall of 2024 if it installs two new regasification plants, he added.
“Our goal to diversify Russian gas was fundamental to give citizens and businesses more certainty about the stability of supply,” said Draghi, who resigned last month after key right-wing parties drew support for his unity government.
He will remain in office until a new government can be formed after the September 25 parliamentary elections.
Public opposition is growing against one of the planned offshore regasification plants near the industrial port of Piombino, in Tuscany, and how the plans are progressing will be a key indicator of whether parties winning the September 25 vote intend to Draghi’s path of reducing dependence to continue on Russian energy.
Draghi waved at right-wing parties advocating sovereignty, saying that energy dependence on “a country that has never stopped pursuing its imperial past is the exact opposite of sovereignty.”
His comments come as Russia’s war in Ukraine has pushed natural gas prices to record highs, fueling inflation worldwide. Moscow has cut gas flows to European countries as they try to bolster their reserves for the winter heating season, and fears are mounting that supplies could be halted completely. That could lead to rationing by companies and push countries into recession.
Germany said Tuesday its gas storage is 80% full, but warned that Russia’s plan to shut down flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline for three days next week could “temporarily dampen” the effort.
Patrick Graichen, Germany’s deputy economy and energy minister, said on Wednesday that he believes gas markets are already considering the possibility that Nord Stream 1 will not reopen. Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom said the planned downtime from August 31 to September 2 was for “routine maintenance”.
If gas stops flowing through the pipeline, current prices are “presumably the one that market participants are already looking forward to,” he said.
“And that probably reflects the deficit we’re in,” Graichen added. “We’ll have to see how we respond appropriately.”
In Italy, Draghi again pushed for a European cap on natural gas prices, which met resistance from other EU member states. He told the audience in Rimini that fears that Russia would cut supplies in retaliation for a price cap were nonetheless materialized this summer by periodic cuts to countries like Germany, which at the same time continued to pay “exorbitant prices”.
The prime minister also reiterated his call to stop linking the price of electricity generated by renewable energy to the higher price of natural gas.
“This relationship has no meaning anymore,” he said.
AP reporter Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.
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