In December 2021, the EU Commission presented new legislative proposals as part of the “Fit for 55” package, reducing emissions by at least 55 % by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. Two of these proposals shall revise the internal market for gas and hydrogen. AK welcomes the proposals, especially their expansion of consumer rights. Howevery, hydrogen should primarily be used.
The EU Commission’s new Regulation and the new Directive on common rules for the internal markets in renewable and natural gases and in hydrogen aims at replacing natural gas with CO2-free or CO2-low gases and hydrogen, while at the same time implementing a market-based system for gases and hydrogen. On 22 March 2022, during an exchange of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), Piotr Kus, Director General of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (ENTSO-G), emphasised that a long-term holistic energy policy focussing on energy security, sustainability and affordability was necessary to successfully implement the Green Deal. Michaela Holl (Agora Energiewende) pointed out that green gases alone are no silver bullet for making Europe’s energy supply CO2-free.
The AK too is sceptical about the EU Commission's suggested broad use of hydrogen for decarbonisation, as the potentials for generating biomethane and hydrogen in the European Union are limited. Hydrogen and biomethane are significantly more expensive than other CO2-free energy sources – an AK study for Austria finds that future demands for green gases must also be met by imports by at least two thirds. From AK’s point of view, hydrogen and alternative gases should therefore only be used in those sectors that otherwise lack decarbonisation options. As regards the switch to renewable and affordable energy supplies, any lock-in effects into fossil natural gas supply has to be avoided, and a detailed plan for phasing out fossil natural gas must be submitted. In this context, ensuring that the expansion of hydrogen infrastructure will not be at the expense of households is key, as the Directive does not rule out the passing on of costs of network use for alternative gases and hydrogen to private households.
AK welcomes that the EU Commission’s proposed Directive is strengthening consumer rights on the gas market in particular, as they are already enshrined in the electricity market at European level. The proposal also allows for time-restricted regulatory interventions on gas prices for low-income households. Furthermore, the EU Commission proposes measures for low-income households, such as a disconnection ban at “critical times”, for example ahead of weekends or public holidays. The stronger focus on energy poverty and the strengthening of consumer rights in the EU Commission's proposal is important in preventing a two-tier energy society. AK also demands to set up an Energy and Climate Aid Fund at national level, in order to combat energy poverty in the long term.
Furthermore, the proposed Directive sets out new information duties for energy suppliers towards household customers, as well as the creation of a one-stop shop to advise private customers and an extrajudicial dispute resolution mechanism. However, AK criticises the option within the Directive that Member States may provide exceptions for companies regarding the participation in dispute settlement procedures.