'Save now': German energy regulator warns gas prices could triple
The head of Germany's Federal Network Agency has urged households to prepare for a tripling of gas prices in 2023.
"For those who are now receiving their heating bills, the installments are already doubling - and that's not even taking into account the consequences of the Ukraine war," the agency's president, Klaus Müller, told RND on Thursday.
"From 2023, gas customers will have to prepare for a tripling of the monthly costs, at least."
Asked whether that meant that people who currently pay €1,500 per year would be hit with an annual bill of €4,500, Müller said he thought that was "absolutely realistic" and could even be higher.
The energy regulator explained that gas prices for for energy companies had increased as much as sevenfold in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and continued global supply issues.
"Not all of this will reach consumers immediately or in full, but at some point it has to be paid for. And that is why it makes so much sense to save now," he said.
According to price comparison site Verivox, only one in three households has so far received an annual bill for gas and around half of these have paid an average of €227 in arrears.
For a good third of households with gas heating, the rates for the coming heating season had increased by an average of €52 per month. For new customers with a gas consumption of 20,000 kilowatt hours, the prices had increased by an average of 159 percent or €1,963 per year compared to the previous year.
In recent days, German energy giant Uniper has approached the government for financial support as it revealed it was losing tens of millions of euros each day in the current crisis.
These dramatic shortfalls have arisen after Russia cut the gas supply through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline by 60 percent, meaning energy companies have been forced to buy gas elsewhere at much higher prices.
Asked what he thought of passing on these higher procurement costs to customers via a levy, Müller said this was a "political decision that has to be weighed up very carefully".
He said billions could be raised to prop up the struggling energy firms that way. "The other option is to pass on the prices (to consumers) and then help those who can no longer bear them," he added.
Households have priority
Müller's comments come after Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) warned that energy price increases could be "in the four-digit region" this year and questioned whether the existing gas emergency plans were fit for purpose.
Currently, if a state of emergency is declared, private households are the last to get their energy turned off, while businesses and industries are the first in line. But Habeck has said these rules weren't intended for a situation where gas was potentially restricted for months on end.
Nevertheless, the head of the Federal Network Agency quelled fears that private households could be given lower priority in the event of a gas shortage.
"The German and European legal situation provides for protecting private households until the end," Müller affirmed. "Even in the worst case scenario, Germany will continue to get gas from Norway and from terminals in Belgium or Holland, and soon also directly from terminals on the German coast."
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He said a situation in which there wasn't gas reaching people's home was "highly unlikely".
On Monday, Russia turned off the gas supply through the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline due to routine maintenance work that is due to run until July 21st.
However, some are concerned that the routine maintenance could be used as an excuse for Russia to turn off the taps entirely.
"It looks as if Russia is severely restricting the gas or will not supply any more in the long run," Rainer Dulger, head of the Employers' Association, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Thursday. "We are facing the biggest crisis the country has ever had."