The two houses of the German parliament have passed emergency legislation to reactivate coal-fired mothballed power plants to support electricity generation amid fears of gas shortages as Russia caps capacity.
The move has been described as “painful but necessary” by the government’s environment minister, Robert Habeck. It has the support of the leading Greens in the coalition government, who argue that it is needed as a short-term crisis management tool.
It was finally approved by the upper house of parliament on Friday, along with a package of measures to encourage the expansion of renewable energies – including by classifying them as a matter of public safety – including setting a minimum for the share of renewable energy sources. country must allow each state wind farms.
But environmentalists argue that the possible return to using such highly polluting energy is too far a compromise and that Germany is in danger of missing even its most basic climate targets.
Before the conflict in Ukraine, Germany planned to phase out coal by 2030, as it is much more carbon-intensive than gas. But when the gas supply from Russia — on which Germany is heavily dependent — began to run out after Russia cut power, steps were taken to restart coal-fired power plants that had been shut down.
The measures are intended to help Germany get rid of Russian gas, making it less susceptible to blackmail, and to maintain energy supplies for the winter, by using coal to produce electricity instead of gas, which must are saved for a wide range of industrial processes.
Industry bosses welcomed the move on Friday. In a statement, the Federation of German Industries (BDI) called the decision “better late than never”.
It said: “Politics and economics must urgently use the summer months to save gas, to ensure that the storage facilities are full for the coming heating season. Otherwise, we will face a serious gas shortage with a sharp drop in industrial production. this tense situation counts every day and every cubic meter of gas we can save.”
At the outbreak of the war, the gas storage facilities were only about a third full. By Friday, they were gradually filled to about 63% of capacity, amid austerity measures and efforts to source supplies from elsewhere. But they are still a long way from a 90% target to be reached by November 1, which experts say should just about see Germany through the winter.
Households and industry have already been urged to save as much energy as possible. Habeck has talked about reducing the length of his bouts and is encouraging Germans to do the same. Elsewhere, municipalities have taken steps to reduce street lighting, lower the temperature of swimming pools, and some housing associations have even started rationing the supply of hot water to their tenants.
The gas bill has already doubled and could even quadruple in winter. “We’re talking about raises that add up to a monthly income for some families,” Haback warned.
At the beginning of the war, Germans were urged to reduce gas consumption in order to punish Vladimir Putin. Now the message has shifted to cutting gas to provide heat in winter.
The supply of gas from Russia via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline which runs through the Baltic Sea to Germany has been reduced to about 40% of the usual level. On Monday, an annual maintenance project on the pipeline, which is expected to take about 10 days, is seen as a bottleneck. There is a widespread fear, supported by Habeck and other government figures, that Russia could use the opportunity to shut down the pipeline completely, on the pretext of failing parts.
Habeck told parliament on Thursday that Germany was being held hostage by the circumstances, but also blamed the energy policies of the former government of Angela Merkel. “If you pose in front of melting icebergs and rightly decide to turn your back, [nuclear] energy, but forget that you have to build an infrastructure to make that work, if you make climate policy decisions but don’t back them up with measures, it’s like leaving Germany in the rain,” he said.
Klaus Ernst, the chair of the parliamentary committee on climate protection and energy, said the decision to re-ignite coal-fired power stations amounted to a “climate policy disaster”.
Ernst, a member of the far-left Left party, said that by imposing sanctions on Russia for which it was now seeking revenge, Germany had put itself in a position “to seize measures that hit our own country harder than the country we wanted.” subject to sanctions”.
He said that if gas supplies from Russia stopped, Germany would experience the worst economic crisis since World War II.
Ricarda Lang, the leader of the Greens, said the coal-fired power plant’s decision made her “stomach ache”, but in the short term it was vital to ensure energy security in the coming months. “It is therefore right that we can use coal-fired power plants again, but at the same time, of course, we need to have the guts to ensure that we continue to meet our target to phase out coal by 2030.”