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PROTESTS

Thousands protest in German town threatened by mine expansion

Thousands of protesters gathered on Saturday in a northwest German village slated to disappear because of a coal mine expansion, as the country looks to decrease its reliance on Russian gas.

People take part in a protest against the destruction of a village for a coal mine in Germany
People take part in a protest against the destruction of a village for the expansion of the Garzweiler lignite open cast mine near Luetzerath, western Germany, on April 23, 2022. - German energy provider RWE is planning to entirely demolish houses in the village of Luetzerath for coal mining. (Photo by Bernd Lauter / AFP)

Organisers said around 3,500 people demonstrated at Luetzerath in the Rhine mining basin, only a few hundred metres from the gigantic Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine, one of the largest in the world.

About a hundred activists decided to protest directly at the edge of the mine, which can be “extremely dangerous”, regional police said in a tweet.

The village, like some others, has long been condemned to disappear to allow the mine to expand further.

Germany is planning to abandon coal by 2030, as part of the fight for cleaner energy sources. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, however, the energy debate has been revived in the country, which is heavily dependent on Russian
hydrocarbons, particularly gas, which accounts for some 55 percent of its energy imports.

People take part in a protest against the destruction of a village for the expansion of the Garzweiler lignite open cast mine near Luetzerath, western Germany, on April 23, 2022. They hold home-made placards reading ‘Luetzi [Luetzerath] stays!’ and ‘No money for coal! (Luetz lives)’. (Photo by Bernd Lauter / AFP)

To ensure sufficient electricity production while reducing dependence on Russian imports, the German government gave itself the option last month of “suspending” the closure of certain coal-fired power stations, while standing by the objective of phasing out coal by 2030.

READ ALSO: Russia’s alarming hold over German energy infrastructure

“How can we trust the government’s ability to contribute to peace in Ukraine if it is destroying homes and villages in its own country for fossil fuels?” said Ilyess El Kortbi, an activist from the Fridays For Future
movement.

Luetzerath has become the new rallying point of the German environmental movement. Activists have built huts and are preparing for a confrontation with police.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg visited the area last September.

READ ALSO: Germany eyes keeping coal plants open longer as backup

The coal that lies under the ground in these municipalities will be “necessary from 2024” to supply power stations, while other mines in the region are closing, according to the operator, the RWE group.

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ENERGY

Should tenants in Germany be shielded from energy price hikes?

Gas prices have more than tripled in the past year, prompting tenants' rights advocates to call for more social support and a cap on energy costs.

Should tenants in Germany be shielded from energy price hikes?

The German’s Tenants’ Association is calling on the government to put together a new energy relief package to help renters deal with spiralling energy costs.

Gas has become an increasing scarce resource in Germany, with the Economics Ministry raising the alert level recently after Russia docked supplies by 60 percent.

The continued supply issues have caused prices to skyrocket. According to the German import prices published on Thursday, natural gas was three times as expensive in May 2022 as it was in May a year ago.

In light of the exploding prices, the German Tenants’ Association is putting the government under pressure to offer greater relief for renters.

READ ALSO: 

Proposals on the table include a moratorium on terminating tenancy agreements and a permanent heating cost subsidy for all low-income households.

The Tenants’ Association has argued that nobody should face eviction for being unable to cope with soaring bills and is urging the government to adjust housing benefits in line with the higher prices. 

Gas price cap

Renters’ advocates have also joined a chorus of people advocating for a cap on consumer gas prices to prevent costs from rising indefinitely.

Recently, Frank Bsirske, a member of the parliamentary Green Party and former head of the trade union Verdi, spoke out in favour of capping prices. Bavaria’s economics minister and Lower Saxony’s energy minister have also advocated for a gas price cap in the past. 

According to the tenants’ association, the vast majority of tenants use gas for heating and are directly affected by recent price increases.

At the G7 summit in Bavaria this week, leaders of the developed nations discussed plans for a coordinated cut in oil prices to prevent Russia from reaping the rewards of the energy crisis. 

In an initiative spearheaded by the US, the group of rich nations agreed to task ministers will developing a proposal that would see consumer countries refusing to pay more than a set price for oil imports from Russia.

READ ALSO: Germany and G7 to ‘develop a price cap’ on Russian oil

A gas price cap would likely be carried out on a more national level, with the government regulating how much of their costs energy companies can pass onto consumers. 

Strict contract laws preventing sudden price hikes mean that tenants in Germany are unlikely to feel the full force of the rising gas prices this year

However, the Tenant’s Association pointed out that, if there is a significant reduction in gas imports, the Federal Network Agency could activate an emergency clause known as the price adjustment clause.

This would allow gas suppliers to pass on higher prices to their customers at short notice. 

The Tenants’ Association has warned that the consequences of an immediate market price adjustment, if it happens, should be legally regulated and socially cushioned.

In the case of the price adjustment clause being activated, the government would have to regulate the costs that companies were allowed to pass onto consumers to prevent social upheaval. 

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