Austria’s Path Back to Coal-Fired Power Hits Political Roadblock

(Bloomberg) -- Austrian plans to revive a mothballed coal plant were thrown into disarray after opposition parties rejected the initiative in parliament, underscoring rising discontent over the government’s energy policies.

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State-controlled utility Verbund AG was ordered in June to prepare its coal-fired plant for emergency operation should Russia halt natural-gas supplies during the heating season. On Tuesday, opposition parties led by the Social Democrats rejected a bill cementing the measure, which requires two-thirds support in parliament, until the government guarantees extra costs for reviving coal won’t be borne by taxpayers.

“Those that have made billions in the current energy crisis should pay,” said Joerg Leichtfried, the deputy speaker of the Social Democrats.

Like many other governments across Europe, Austria’s ruling coalition has been struggling to control the political fallout from spiking gas and power prices.

Green Party Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler called opposition to the bill irresponsible and vowed to hold the Social Democrats responsible if Austrian’s go without power this winter, according to comments made to the public broadcaster ORF.

READ: Austria Returns to Coal Era in Hedge Against Russian Power Play

The Mellach station, which also includes a combined-cycle gas-fired plant, provides heat and electricity, to Austria’s second-biggest city of Graz. After it was closed, Verbund turned the coal station into a center for researchers looking for ways to safely feed hydrogen fuel onto the power grid.

The plant, 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Vienna, was shut two years ago as Austria became only the second European country to eliminate coal entirely from its electricity grid.

The proposed legislation would have also ordered utilities and industrial producers to lay plans for converting gas plants to other fuels. The Social Democrats said they’re open to talks with the government about a potential way forward.

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