Big freeze in the queue for natural gas supplies as Greeks seek out cheaper fuel

Companies supplying natural gas have not been able to meet the demand for new connections, delaying the overall expansion of the network. Particularly in recent months when petroleum prices have skyrocketed, demand for natural gas connections has risen correspondingly, resulting in long waiting times of one to six months. At a time when Greece should be fighting to free itself of dependence on petroleum and turning toward alternative fuel sources (preferably renewable ones), natural gas is not yet in widespread use. While connections are increasing, total consumption remains low. In Attica, for example, over the past five years only 110,000 of a total 1.25 million households in the prefecture of Attica have linked up to the natural gas network. It appears that the management of the distribution by multinational firms has been far from successful. Consumers, however, are showing great interest in natural gas, which is 20 percent cheaper than petroleum and has a wide range of applications. Yet they are discouraged by long delays and high connection costs, not to mention the dearth of tax incentives. «There have been cases of consumers who paid up before the winter and were promised a connection before the cold weather began, but were forced to find alternative heating sources at the last minute,» said Nikolaos Tseberlidis, head of the Consumer Protection Center (KEPKA), based in Thessaloniki. According to the gas firms, the reason for the delays lies in the sudden increase in demand. The Gas Supply Company (EPA) in Attica is run by the American Synergy Corporation and Shell, and in Thessaloniki and Thessaly by Italy’s Ital-Gas. Critics say company officials were not qualified for the job, but it appears that the entire system was not prepared for the sudden rush on services. There were too few accredited plumbers specialized in natural gas installations. Recently their number (300 originally) was doubled. Problems have also emerged with the system of assigning contracts to different distribution firms. At the moment in Attica, about 40 firms are involved. Costs At the moment the price of natural gas is fixed at about 20 percent below that of heating oil, and is about 60 percent cheaper than electrical power. However, the cost of installing the equipment is high and tax exemption covers just 20 percent of the outlay on installation costs, but only up to 500 euros, far below the actual cost, which for a building of 12 apartments begins at 2,840 euros.