New coalition govt makes u-turn on energy policy amid supply concerns

Germany’s coalition government Economy Minister Robert Habeck has admitted the country must go against the principles of his Green Party and burn more coal for its energy because of the threat to the country’s fuel security posed by the loss of supply from Russia.

For many years Germany has been criticized for being reliant on Russian fuel resources, and in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine, the issue has been brought into sharp focus.

“To reduce gas consumption, less gas must be used to generate electricity. Coal-fired power plants will have to be used more instead,” said a statement put out by Germany’s economy ministry.

“That’s bitter, but it’s simply necessary in this situation to lower gas usage,” said Habeck.

“We must and we will do everything we can to store as much gas as possible in summer and autumn.

“The gas storage tanks must be full in winter. That has top priority,” he added.

At the moment, Germany’s gas storage facilities are at 57 percent capacity. Habeck said this needed to be topped up as soon as a matter of urgency “otherwise, it will be really tight in winter”. The current target figure is 90 percent capacity by November.

Last week, Russian gas company Gazprom said it had further limited fuel supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, claiming there were technical problems. Habeck rejected this explanation of the reduction from 167 million cubic meters each day to 67 million, saying the decision was politically motivated.

“It is obvious that (Russia’s President Vladmir) Putin’s strategy is to unsettle us by driving up the price and dividing us,” he said. “We won’t let that happen.”

The Financial Times quoted Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz as saying that the country’s dependence on Russian energy was “a mistake of Germany’s economic policy”, and that previous governments had overlooked the chance to come up with alternative supply routes.

Industries are also being encouraged to save gas when they can, in return for financial incentives, with unused supply being put into storage.

The return to coal-fired power is a major u-turn by the coalition government that had previously announced its intention for Germany to be coal-free by 2030.

The Social Democrats are the senior partners in the current coalition government, along with the Greens and the neoliberal Free Democrats, or FDP, who have suggested easing restrictions imposed on fracking in 2017 as a way around the problem.

“As scientific studies show, under modern security standards fracking causes no relevant environmental damage,” the FDP’s parliamentary director Torsten Herbst told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

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