Swiss ready plans for gas shortages, could resort to rationing

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A display shows fuel prices in Swiss francs per liter at a BP gas station in Zurich, Switzerland March 11, 2022. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

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ZURICH, June 29 (Reuters) - The Swiss government outlined plans on Wednesday to address a possible shortage of natural gas this winter and said it could resort to rationing should other measures prove insufficient.

The government in March decided to establish a gas reserve for the winter of 2022/23, and the gas industry and authorities have been preparing its implementation.

Five regional gas utilities have so far secured nearly 3.8 terrawatt hours of physical gas reserves in neighbouring countries, around 60% of the target, and were working on securing additional options, the government said.

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Landlocked Switzerland gets its gas via trading hubs in neighbouring countries in the European Union, so disruptions there would also affect Switzerland.

Switzerland has relatively low demand for gas, which covers around 15% of total energy consumption. Around 42% of gas is used to heat households, and the rest in industry and in the service and transport sectors, according to government data.

Just under half - 47% - of Swiss gas imports come directly or indirectly from Russia, the government has said previously.

Some companies operate dual-fuel plants, which can switch from natural gas to extra-light heating oil if necessary. The government said operators should start filling oil tanks now.

Compulsory stocks of extra-light heating oil cover four months worth of demand in Switzerland.

There are no large natural gas storage facilities in Switzerland, but company Gaznat has a stake in an underground gas storage facility near Lyon in France.

An agreement between Switzerland and France ensures that Swiss customers are supplied with gas even in the event of shortages, and a similar deal with Germany is being negotiated.

If there is a gas shortage, the government will first urge households and business to curb gas consumption, and could oblige dual-fuel plants to switch to heating oil.

If these measures are not sufficient, the government could order rationing. Priority for getting supplies would fall to households that are connected to a natural gas network and to basic social services outside education and public administration.

"In order to keep the reduction in natural gas deliveries to all consumers as low as possible, all non-protected customers are to be allocated quotas without prioritisation. In addition, restrictions on use are being examined. This could ban the use of gas for certain applications," the government said.

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Reporting by Michael Shields

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