According to Section 98(1) of the Gas Act, storage access should be granted on a negotiated basis. However, the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism may issue an ordinance to adapt the access regime to gas storage facilities and therefore determine access thereto on a regulated basis. The regulated storage access may concern:

  • the methods for calculating storage usage charges;
  • the general terms and conditions of storage undertakings; and
  • the methods and procedures for allocating capacity.

The ministry decides whether such an adaptation is needed based on a flexibility and storage market report issued by the regulatory authority E-Control. According to Section 98(3) of the Gas Act, the regulatory authority must update the report at least every three years to assess:

  • the intensity of competition on the storage market based on price comparisons;
  • product supply and its use;
  • market concentration (supply and demand) considering the availability of offered quantities; and
  • the availability of storage capacities in relation to demand.

The report is based on the information storage facility operators must provide to the regulatory authority pursuant to the third energy package and the Gas Act (eg, contracts concluded for the provision of storage services, storage fees and terms and conditions). The storage facilities concerned may comment on the draft report. The comments received will be considered in the preparation of the final version of the report.

Development of competition since previous report

In 2019 Austria's storage capacities amounted to:

  • 92.199GWh working gas volumes;
  • 43.745MWh/h withdrawal rates; and
  • 34.666 MWh/h injection rates.

In regard to storage capacities, the Austrian gas market is basically stable.

There have been positive developments regarding market transparency. Transparent services and conditions for concluding contracts are essential in a negotiated access regime. As a supervisory body, E-Control is responsible for:

  • monitoring the compliance of all market participants, particularly in regard to the Gas Act and the obligations conferred by directly applicable EU law; and
  • penalising non-compliance.

As a result of E-Control's consultation with storage operators in 2018, all storage operators currently comply with the transparency requirements. As described in the report, a transparency template created in 2013 by Gas Storage Europe (GSE) and its members effectively contributed to the adaptation of the transparency requirements. In this respect, E-Control urged all storage operators to implement the GSE transparency template, which contains storage information concerning, for example, capacities, service and facilities, tariffs and pricing and an explanation of how to become a customer/user.

With regard to the storage capacity, a minimal decrease in working gas volumes and withdrawal and injection capacity has been noted since the previous report. Similarly, there has been no significant change in the number of providers and shares in the storage capacities offered. Storage capacities for the Austrian market are also offered by storage operators from Slovakia. Nevertheless, compared with 2003, a significant increase in storage capacities is evident, while storage operators have extended their storage facilities in recent years. Storage capacities for storage customers remain widely available, with demand coming from end customer provider and international gas traders registered at the Central European Gas Hub AG, as well as suppliers and traders from Germany, Italy and Slovenia. However, the number of concluded contracts has decreased, with only bookings for injection capacity having increased. There is also a clear tendency towards short-term storage contracts. Storage customers' use of booked working gas volume has fallen since 2016, whereas use of injection and withdrawal capacity has increased slightly.

Recent price developments reveal a downward trend and storage operator revenues are decreasing. This raises questions about the stability of some storage facilities. Despite their importance for security of supply, the first storage facility in Austria has already been closed.

Flexibility and Storage Market Report 2019

The information assessed when preparing the Flexibility and Storage Market Report 2019 on the Austrian gas market suggests that the current competitive situation does not require regulated access to storage facilities. The sufficient availability of storage capacity, customer-oriented product development, market-oriented price formation and offered quantities combine to form a market characterised by competitive pressure.

On the supply side, persistently low prices and declining revenues are putting pressure on storage operators. This is because supply of storage capacity is exceeding demand. However, E-Control is unaware of the extent of this economic pressure, as it cannot access the storage facilities' costs as part of the negotiated access regime.

This development is relevant for storage operators when deciding whether to maintain or close a storage facility. The future of the energy system, the economic benefits of storage facilities for the energy transport system and the security of supply in the existing gas system – as well as the role of storage in a decarbonisation strategy – should also be taken into account.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.