The rush of dear energy does not stop. The increase in prices and the risk of closure of hundreds of thousands of companies will require a new and substantial intervention: this is the first great challenge of the next Meloni government. There are no easy ways out, there are none. Although Europe will approve the gas price containment measures on which Italy is working “generically called price cap” in the coming weeks, to see the electricity and gas bills go down “at best it will take two or three months”. Word of the Minister of Ecological Transition, Roberto Cingolani (who, according to rumors, could also have a role in the next executive, enjoys the esteem of both Meloni and Salvini). The premier in pectore is already working on a new aid decree that will most likely be fired in early November.
Gas, what the rationing risk entails
With stocks already at 91% and the contribution of Algerian gas, will Italy be able to spend a “warm” winter or is rationing a concrete scenario? The problem is that the 10% of Russian gas that we desperately need plays a fundamental role in the forecasts and that already in recent weeks arrives with difficulty, in fits and starts. In the event of events of an extreme nature such as a possible sabotage of an operational Russian gas pipeline, or a total or partial interruption of supplies (Gazprom announced today that the transport of gas via Austria to Italy has resumed) or even just a particularly cold winter in terms of weather, we must be ready to enhance the so-called “savings plan”. Virtuous behavior by individuals can help, but it is certainly not the solution to the problem. Without a reduction in gas demand, if Russia cuts off supplies, stocks would fall below 20% in February. Davide Tabarelli (Nomisma Energia) fears a complex season: “If there will be many cold days and consumption will increase, we could be forced to ration gas at the end of February”.
Gas rationing is a spectrum for now, just a spectrum. But back to the center of the debate. If we look at the 2020 data, the consequences of a decline in gas availability would be heavier in northern Italy, where the largest number of industries and population are concentrated. Lombardy alone consumes almost five times the gas of Sicily or Lazio. Four regions (Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Piedmont) are final recipients of more than half of natural gas. Various mayors are already asking the executive for help to pay the bills of the municipalities. The alternative, in the worst case scenario, is to stop the trams at certain times, cut the heating, or keep parts of the city in the dark, assuming that the Christmas lights in a big way will be a thing of the past, and who knows for how long. The problem was the lights of the holidays.
Franco Bernabè, former CEO of Eni and current president of Acciaierie d’Italia, doesn’t mince words. Interviewed today by the newspaper The print, says that short-term solutions “don’t exist”. The current difficulties “are the result of choices that have accumulated over the course of two decades. We can only optimize the availability of methane during the winter with a rationing strategy that minimizes damage: but we need an extremely detailed plan in order to protect essential services “. In short, rationing must be considered a concrete scenario in order not to be caught unprepared. Bernabè refers to “hospitals, residences for the elderly. And then to businesses, starting with energy-intensive ones. Families will also be protected, especially in the North, where it is colder”. The manager imagines a plan to reshape the production of industries, at least of those that have interruptible chains: “If it is not necessary to implement it, so much the better, but in the meantime we will be prepared. Without a plan we will find ourselves in the same conditions in which we found ourselves at beginning of the pandemic: unprepared to manage the emergency “, he concludes.
In recent months in Italy, families and businesses have already started a sort of “de facto rationing” in order not to be overwhelmed by expensive energy: this is what reveals a study by Staffetta Quotidiana on data from Snam Rete Gas and the Ministry of Transition ecological. The analysis shows that Italian consumption of natural gas showed a sharp contraction in all sectors and Italy consumed 4,059.8 million cubic meters of gas, down by 15.9% on September 2021 and by 8 , 9% compared to the average for the decade 2012-2021, hitting the lowest levels for two decades now, for this month. The tendential contraction in consumption (which amounts to almost 800 million cubic meters) is attributable for approximately 100 million to the civil sector, while the repercussion on small businesses is added to a record decline for the industry, which with 927.7 million cubic meters requires 22.5% (270 million cubic meters) less than in September 2021, -18.3% over the decade, due to the decision of many plants not to reopen or strongly reduce activity after the summer .
Europe in no particular order
The International Energy Agency, in its latest report, recalled that “gas saving measures will be crucial in Europe” to face the coming winter, not only because of the risk of an interruption in supplies from Russia, but also because the prices of the so-called blue gold are destined to remain high throughout the current year and also for 2023. An appeal to austerity that for the moment sees the countries of the European Union going in no particular order. Italy and Spain have so far been among the least inclined to energy saving among the big energy-hungry companies in the block.
Last week the go-ahead to Nadef arrived from the Parliamentary Budget Office, which issues the validation of the forecasts for the two-year period 2022-22: the elements of uncertainty are highlighted, but for now the basic scenarios of the Mef do not consider the complete blockade of gas supplies by Russia: “If this prospect were to be realized in conjunction with other adverse conditions, it could be necessary to ration gas consumption over the next winter, with non-negligible repercussions on economic activity”, reads . In short, better be found prepared.