Germany eyes keeping coal plants open longer as backup

Germany is looking at keeping coal plants open longer in order to ensure energy security, the government said Thursday, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine sparked fears over power deliveries.

Germany's Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck speaks in Berlin on Wednesday.
Germany's Economic Affairs and Climate Action Minister Robert Habeck speaks in Berlin on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The government said it will bring down gas usage in power generation by “possibly keeping coal-fired power plants as a security standby for longer”.

Decommissioning the coal plants “can be suspended until further notice”, they added, noting that “ideally” they would still stick to the goal of phasing out coal usage by 2030.

Germany’s coalition of Social Democrats, ecologist Greens and liberal FDP had eyed winding down coal usage in the coming years as it sought to make the country climate-neutral by 2045.

But the energy transition had been dependent on temporarily bumping up gas imports while infrastructure for renewables was being ramped up.

The Russian war in Ukraine has however drastically changed its best-laid plans.

READ ALSO: ‘Whatever it takes’: Calls grow for painful German blockade of Russian gas

With 55 percent of Germany’s gas imports stemming from Russia, reliance on Russian energy has been exposed as an Achilles’ heel as Western allies scramble to penalise Vladimir Putin for his war on Ukraine.

Germany’s economy minister of the Green party, Robert Habeck, has even been forced to look around the world to purchase coal to bulk up the nation’s energy reserves.

The pressure has been increasing as calls grow louder for the West to impose a complete embargo on Russian energy imports but Germany has so far been reluctant, citing the potential impact on Europe’s top economy.

Putin on Wednesday upped the ante by demanding payments for gas in rubles, something that Germany has said is a breach of contracts.

With US President Joe Biden joining a series of summits in Brussels on Thursday, the subject of energy security is expected to be broached by allies.

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Russia using energy ‘as weapon’, says Berlin

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck accused Russia on Thursday of using energy as "a weapon", after Moscow announced sanctions on Western energy firms and a key pipeline again saw lower gas deliveries to Europe.

Russia using energy 'as weapon', says Berlin

“It has to be said that the situation is coming to a head, in such a way that the use of energy as a weapon is now being realised in several areas,” Habeck told a press conference.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, on a visit to the German capital, said Moscow had shown itself to be an unreliable supplier.

Kuleba urged Europe to end its heavy dependence on Russian gas that was helping to finance Moscow’s war machine.

“This energy oxygen for Russia must be turned off and that is especially important for Europe,” Kuleba said at a joint press conference with Habeck.

“Europe must get rid of this complete dependence on Russian gas, since Russia has shown… that it is not a reliable partner and Europe cannot afford that.”

Russia on Thursday said it would stop sending natural gas via the Polish section of the Yamal-Europe pipeline as part of retaliation for Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

The move comes a day after Russia issued a government decree imposing sanctions on 31 EU, US and Singaporean energy firms.

Most of the companies belong to the Gazprom Germania group of subsidiaries of Russian energy giant Gazprom.

The sanctions include a ban on transactions and the entry into Russian ports of vessels linked to the affected companies.

Meanwhile, operators on Thursday reported a drop in gas supplies from Russia via Ukraine for a second day, after Kyiv said it would suspend flows through a key eastern transit pipeline called Sokhranivka because the area wasno longer under Ukrainian control.

But Gazprom has denied there was a case for the Ukrainian side to declare “force majeure” and said it was impossible to reroute all the supplies through another Ukrainian pipeline.

‘Blackmail’ fears

Gazprom told the Interfax news agency that supplies transiting Ukraine on Thursday were at 50.6 million cubic metres in total, compared to 72 million cubic metres the day before.

Germany, which is hugely reliant on Russian energy, said it had been able to make up the shortfall through gas imports from Norway and the Netherlands.

The head of Germany’s Federal Network Agency, Klaus Mueller, also noted that Russia had been very “surgical” about its pick on which companies to sanction, selecting only storage and trading companies, and “not the operators”.

This “very well-planned, precise decree allows it to keep doing business with Germany, but not on old contract conditions”, rather under new conditions that other gas dealers would then have to conclude with Russia, said Mueller.

Europe’s biggest economy is racing to wean itself off Russian energy and has already almost completely phased out Russian coal.

But ditching Russian oil and gas will be more difficult.

With fears growing that Russia could abruptly turn off the energy taps, Habeck said Germany was focusing on building up gas reserves to prepare for winter.

“The gas storage facilities must be full by winter or else we will be in a situation where we can easily be blackmailed,” he warned.

READ ALSO: Russian gas transit halt in Ukraine hits key pipeline’s inflow in Germany