By VANESSA GERA, Associated Press
ROME (AP) — Italy announced emergency energy measures Monday, cutting gas supplies to some industries to make sure that private homes stayed warm during a severe cold spell.
Business lobbies complained strongly, saying the move threatened Italy's already vulnerable economy.
The cold snap has coincided with a sharp drop in the amount of gas that the Russian energy giant Gazprom is sending to Western Europe. Supplies to much of Europe have fallen by about 30 percent, though ENI, the Italian energy company, said gas supplies to Italy are about 20 percent less than usual.
Italy's Ministry for Economic Development said some thermal power plants would have to burn oil instead of methane gas while other industries will see their gas supplies temporarily cut. It said the country was hitting "a historical peak" in gas usage.
The cuts were announced after an emergency government meeting.
Industrial groups criticized the decision, saying many companies have already been hurt by strikes by drivers and by the winter weather, which has forced some to stop operating temporarily.
Emma Marcegaglia, the head of Italy's industrial lobby Confindustria, urged the government to tap more of the country's reserves to spare industries the brunt of the energy shortage.
The companies affected have "interruptive gas contracts" that give them gas at lower rates in exchange for a willingness to be the first to face cutoffs in emergency situations.
Government officials tried to reassure regular Italians on Monday that they would not face cold homes.
"Families can feel at ease," said Claudio De Vincenti, the undersecretary of economic development.
However, ENI also urged individual consumers to cut back on energy use as much as possible, acknowledging the seriousness of the situation.
"This is a difficult moment," said Gianni di Giovanni, an ENI spokesman.
The director of ENI, Paolo Scaroni, has said Italy has enough supplies through Wednesday but could face problems if Gazprom make further cuts.
Italy gets about 30 percent of its gas from Russia. So far it has made up for Gazprom's reductions by stepping up energy imports from Algeria — its biggest supplier — and from northern Europe.
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