Italy awaits EU clearance on $5.2-B tariff to cover gas storage costs

(Reuters) - Italy's energy authority is awaiting clarity from the European Union on whether a planned tariff to cover costs of gas storage filling, potentially worth $5.18 B, is in compliance with the single market rules, two sources said on Thursday.

The tariff is similar to one introduced by Germany in 2022 but that is now being looked at by the EU's energy regulator ACER to see whether it breaches EU competition rules. ACER's findings are due to be presented to the European Commission in the coming weeks and could affect Italy's plans.

Italy's energy regulator ARERA announced the so-called "neutrality charge", a fee weighing on gas passing through the interconnection points of domestic and international grids, in December and aimed to make it effective from April.

One of the two sources, both of whom asked not to be named, told Reuters that ARERA hoped the EU would soon clarify its position on the matter.

The European Commission's energy department (DG ENER), which asked ACER to investigate the German tariff, has been in touch with the Italian regulator to get a better understanding of the design of the planned measure, a spokesperson for the EU's executive said. The spokesperson stressed that "tariffs have to comply with the EU legislative framework."

Both the German tariff and the one proposed in Italy are a legacy of the European energy crisis that peaked in 2022 after Moscow cut gas flows to Europe following its invasion of Ukraine and an undersea explosion shut the Nord Stream pipeline from Russia to Germany - the route for 15% of Europe's gas imports.

ARERA said this month that extraordinary efforts to inject gas into Italian storage sites in 2022 had an estimated cost of 6.7 billion euros, of which 4.8 billion euros would need to be covered through the neutrality charge.

The tariff, estimated at 2.19 euros per MWh, triggered wide-spread criticism from market operators during consultation talks with ARERA that concluded last month.

Before Germany introduced its levy, ACER and the Council of European Energy Regulators (CEER) said that EU countries could not impose extra cross-border charges to recover costs.

ARERA said in December that it originally planned to cover costs of 2022 storage filling by charging Italian consumers so as to avoid "distorting effects" in cross-border gas trade, but the German move prompted it to revise its initial stance.

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