By Nora Buli
(Reuters) - British Gas owner Centrica has reopened its Rough gas storage site off England's east coast at about 20% of its previous capacity, enough to heat 1 million homes for 100 days this winter, the company said on Friday.
Countries across Europe have been building gas stocks ahead of winter as Russian gas pipeline supply has dwindled, but Britain has had very little storage capacity since Rough's closure in 2017.
Before it was closed, Rough represented more than 70% of UK storage and supplied 10% of peak winter demand.
At nearly 120 billion cubic feet (bcf) capacity, it was the largest offshore gas storage facility in western Europe, but it become unprofitable after technical issues and prolonged maintenance.
However, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and growing concerns over gas supplies this winter, Centrica upgraded the facility and started refilling the site in early autumn.
There is now around 20 bcf of gas at the site, with capacity this winter set to reach up to 30 bcf, equivalent to about nine LNG tankers, Centrica Chief Executive Chris O'Shea told reporters.
"This could satisfy probably 3-4% of UK home demand during the winter peak," O'Shea said, adding that this could heat a million homes for a 100 days.
Even at 20% of previous capacity, Rough is the UK's largest gas storage site and adds 50% to the UK's gas storage capacity, though this lags behind European countries, Centrica said.
The company has not received any government funding to resume storage operations, O'Shea said.
"We have enough visibility on gas prices over this winter to be able to run it with no need of any regulatory support model," he added.
Centrica could also run the facility at the same capacity next winter without the need for material additional investment, O'Shea said.
"However, we don’t know at this stage whether this will make economic sense. That’s why we've been looking for some kind of regulatory return model to underpin the investment," he added.
In the short term Rough can balance the British energy system by storing gas when there is a surplus and then withdraw gas when needed during cold snaps and peak demand.
The long-term aim is to turn the Rough gas field into the largest long-range energy storage facility in Europe, capable of storing both natural gas and hydrogen, Centrica said.
UK business and energy secretary Grant Shapps said: "The reopening of the Rough gas storage facility ahead of the winter will further strengthen the UK’s energy resilience and make us less susceptible to Putin’s manipulation of global gas supplies."
(Reporting by Nora Buli in Oslo and Sinchita Mitra in Bengaluru; Editing by David Goodman and Nina Chestney)