Energy AG boss – “Instead of scare tactics, we need serious optimism”


Werner Steinecker’s last months as head of Energie-AG could hardly have been more turbulent. The general manager of the Upper Austrian energy supplier spoke to the “Krone” about blackout scenarios, energy shortages, overprofits and impatient customers.

The certificate that Werner Steinecker received at the opening of the Powertower extension on the occasion of his 50th company anniversary, can be found on the furniture next to the door of his office on the 18th floor of the headquarters of Energie AG in Linz. Large glass surfaces allow plenty of daylight into the space, which the 65-year-old leaves on December 31. He had imagined a certain “sociability” in the last weeks of his work. “But that won’t happen again,” says the general manager and takes a seat.

“OÖ Krone”:ORF is currently running a six-part series about the power outage, which shows a bleak picture of how life develops if there is no electricity for a few days. What do you think about it?
Werner Steinecker: I believe that it is needless to be frightened about what is already an emotionally very difficult and fraught time. Right now the energy themes are anything but funny and that’s where this grisly topic comes in.

But you too are increasingly confronted with this lurid subject, as you call it.
Because excessive prophylactic panic is felt at headquarters. Under the motto: I have to work on blackout prevention, otherwise I won’t be there. It wasn’t until Wednesday morning that a CEO called me and said they had said they had to prepare for the fact that in extreme situations the energy suppliers would shut down the power for four days, and that was unthinkable for the company he runs. I listened intently and was beyond perplexed.

You are visibly upset.
Because it’s just the totally wrong time to talk about the blackout right now. Now those who can offer serious optimism are in high demand.

Who are you thinking of?
This serious optimism can only come from politics. However, this is only feasible if you dare to develop solutions in time. Not much good has come out of Brussels down there.

How do you rate the electricity price brake for private households?
What the federal government came up with with the reduced price of ten cents per kilowatt hour is good. However, some sort of rethink is needed very quickly, because heat pump operators are out of step with the 2900 kilowatt-hour due to their higher consumption and pay more for the kilowatt-hour. Upper Austria is the heat pump country. We have thousands of such customers. They say, “Please do something!”

The impatience grows.
It has always been said that adjustments still need to be made, but the customer is impatient. He doesn’t want to be comforted anymore. He says, “Do it right now!”

In the current energy crisis, energy suppliers are under constant criticism. There is a lot of talk about excess profits to be skimmed off. Will Energie AG also be asked to pay?
In the past financial year, which ended at the end of September, we went through two phases. We have seen electricity prices rise from October 2021. With our 43 hydroelectric power stations in total, we thought we would benefit from this. But suddenly our own hydroelectric power station completely shut down due to a prolonged, unprecedented drought. We were sometimes 30 percent below a normal year of production and had to buy replacements ourselves – at high prices.

What does that mean?
Our highly profitable energy division has collapsed. If we didn’t have a rock-solid structure with the network segment and waste area with currently very attractive residual values, if we didn’t do well in the Czech Republic and in telecommunications, we would be under water with the result for the year. We are not war winners.

Keyword war: There is currently an almost desperate search for a way out of dependence on Russian gas.
We see that the replacement purchase of liquefied natural gas, ie LNG, via America, Oman and Norway has resulted in us as Energie AG now filling the gas storage facilities to 90 percent. Across Austria, the gas storage facilities are 80 percent full. We are in an enviable position in Europe. But Europe is currently switching its reliance on gas from Russia 1:1 to America – I’m not happy about that.

However, it is not possible to say whether this gas supply is sufficient for the winter.
It always depends. Because a not inconsiderable part of the stored gas volume belongs to the Germans. In addition, a winter with normal temperatures is assumed for all quantities already stored. What if a cold winter comes? That concern is there.

Source: Krone


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