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ENERGY

EXPLAINED: How much will Germany’s gas levy cost you?

On Monday, gas operators in Germany announced an additional charge of 2.419 cents per kilowatt hour which will come into force in October. Here’s what you need to know.

A man holds a wad of euro notes next to a radiator.
A man holds a wad of euro notes next to a radiator. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jens Büttner

What’s going on?

Households in Germany will face significantly higher gas prices this autumn and winter.

The gas transmission system operator, Trading Hub Europe, announced on Monday that German gas suppliers will be allowed to add 2.419 cents per kilowatt hour to the price of gas from October onwards, to help them cope with hugely increased procurement costs. 

The surcharge is aimed at sharing out the soaring costs borne by energy importers after Russia drastically decreased gas supplies to Germany after the invasion of Ukraine.

Gas importers have so far taken on the additional costs themselves, but a new rule agreed by the government allows them to pass on ballooning costs via the levy to households from October 1st.

How much more are you likely to pay for gas?

For an average family house of 160 square metres, which uses 23,000 kilowatt hours per year, this surcharge would amount to around an extra €556.

Those who live in an apartment of 85 square metres, which uses an average of 12,000 kilowatt hours per year, will be likely to pay an extra €290 annually.

Those living in an apartment of 50 square metres are likely to pay an extra €121 to €169 per year.

The levy will primarily affect property owners with gas heating, as well as tenants living in households that have floor heating and their own gas contracts.

What is not yet clear, however, is how households in Germany supplied with Fernwärme (district heating) will be affected by the levy. 

A gas bill in front of a meter, which reads: “your gas bill in detail”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Weißbrod

In many places, this type of energy supply comes from gas-fired power plants and operators of such power plants are supposed to pay the surcharge.

So far operators have no legal means of passing on these costs to their customers, but the German government wants to look into this issue, so this is likely to change. 

Will VAT be charged on the levy?

The German government wants to waive the value-added tax on gas, but it needs permission from the EU to do so. Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) wrote to the Commission on Friday asking for an exception to EU law to be granted so that Germany does not have to charge VAT on the state gas levy.

READ ALSO: Germany pledges inflation relief tax package worth €10 billion

In a letter to Finance Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, the FDP politician wrote: “VAT on state-imposed levies drives up prices and meets with increasing resistance from the population, especially in the current, exceptional situation.”

It is not yet clear how the Commission is likely to respond to this request.

Haven’t gas prices already increased?

Yes. Numerous gas suppliers have already increased their prices more than once throughout the course of the year.

Most recently, suppliers such as Rheinenergie, Wuppertaler Stadtwerke and Energieversorgung Oberhausen announced significant rate increases. “There is a major wave of price increases,” says energy expert Udo Sieverding from the consumer centre of North Rhine-Westphalia.

In the case of Rheinenergie, for example, an average household, with 15,000 to 20,000 kilowatt hours of annual consumption, is already paying just under €2,000 in additional annual costs after the latest round of price hikes, even before the levy.

Will there be government help for consumers?

Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) announced that the third relief package from the German government will be in place by the start of the levy on October 1st. The traffic light coalition has also agreed on a reform of the housing allowance and is planning a permanent heating allowance for low-income households.

In addition, the new ‘citizen’s allowance’ – a replacement of the current unemployment benefits system – is due to come into effect next year, and promises higher standard rates for the unemployed. 

READ ALSO: Bürgergeld: What to know about Germany’s unemployment benefits shake-up

At the beginning of September, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) will meet with social partners and other experts as part of a concerted action to discuss relief measures. The main focus will be on supporting lower-income groups that are hit hardest by high energy costs.

The SPD and welfare associations are proposing, for example, monthly direct payments to recipients of basic security and housing allowances and a price cap for a basic quantity of gas is also being discussed.

Economics Minister Robert Habeck explained: “Especially for those who don’t have much, it’s a heavy burden that is impossible or difficult to bear.” 

On Monday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) tried to reassure people via Twitter that the government would help balance out the extra costs. 

In the tweet, he said, “we won’t leave anyone alone with the higher costs”. At the same time, Scholz admitted: “It’s getting more expensive – there’s no beating around the bush. Energy prices continue to rise.” So far, he said, government aid of more than €30 billion has already been agreed upon. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s Scholz pledges more relief for lowest earners

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COST OF LIVING

German bakeries fight for survival as costs spiral

Faced with exploding energy and ingredient costs, German baker Tobias Exner has installed new energy-efficient ovens, shortened his opening hours and even considered baking at lower temperatures.

German bakeries fight for survival as costs spiral

But “it just doesn’t taste the same without a good crust”, he said, adding that in any case such efforts could do little to counter the existential crisis he and other bakers are facing.

“If the conditions don’t change, then sooner or later a large share of bakeries in Germany will simply no longer exist,” Exner told AFP.

Bakeries in Germany have been among the businesses hardest hit by the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The war has sent energy prices spiralling across Europe, but especially in Germany, which was previously heavily dependent on Russian gas.

“Bakeries all have ovens. Seventy percent of artisanal bakeries have gas ovens and gas prices are going through the roof,” said Friedemann Berg, managing director of the German Bakers’ Federation.

And two of the main ingredients used by bakers — flour and oil — are among those that have been affected by blockades at Ukrainian ports.

Exner’s business is relatively large with 220 staff and 36 branches in Berlin and the surrounding area, leaving it better placed than many to survive the crisis — but even he is struggling.

Wheat is now 2.5 times more expensive than before the crisis, he said, while the cost of a litre of oil has risen from around 82 cents to more than three euros ($2.91).

Dough in the dark

Energy bills for the business, meanwhile, have almost quadrupled compared with 2020.

“You can see that the calculations no longer work,” Exner said to the hum of machines at the company’s main production site in the town of Beelitz.

But Exner is reluctant to pass the cost increases on to his customers, who he simply believes “would not pay those kinds of prices”.

In central Berlin, the mood on the ground appears to confirm his fears.

“Even more? No way. It’s getting extortionate,” said unemployed Gloria Thomas, 56, when asked whether she would be prepared to pay more for her favourite loaf.

Many bakeries in Germany have already gone under as a result of recent cost increases, with others staging protests to demand urgent help from the government.

And there is more at stake than just bread rolls, according to Exner.

“These businesses are often the most important institution in the village — they are at once grocery store, social centre, post office, etc.”

In early September, around 800 German bakeries served customers in the dark for a day to draw attention to their plight.

Insolvency blunder

Germany’s centre-left government has announced relief measures worth almost 100 billion euros to tackle inflation, but small businesses have so far been largely excluded from the help.

Worse still, they were left feeling insulted by controversial comments by Economy Minister Robert Habeck earlier this month.

Asked on a TV panel show whether he thought Germany was heading for a wave of insolvencies, Habeck replied: “I can imagine that certain industries will simply stop producing for a while.”

The comments provoked anger from bakers in particular, who accused Habeck of having no understanding of their industry.

“Habeck is probably not a stupid person, but the question is, is he qualified for the job he has right now? And I would say no,” said Exner.

The Bakers’ Confederation is calling for “quick and unbureaucratic” financial aid.

Bakeries can shave off costs here and there but they “can only do so much”, according to Berg.

If government help does not arrive soon “the future looks bleak,” he said. “It could be that many businesses have to give up their operations or simply file for bankruptcy.”

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