Germany’s economy minister says the country will limit the use of natural gas for electricity production amid concerns about possible shortages caused by a cut in supplies from Russia.
The move comes after Russia sharply reduced flows of natural gas in its pipelines to western Europe, driving up energy prices.
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“To reduce gas consumption, less gas must be used to generate electricity. Coal-fired power plants will have to be used more instead,” Robert Habeck said in a statement on Sunday.
Russian state gas giant Gazprom said the supply reductions via the Nord Stream pipeline are the result of repair work, but European Union officials believe Moscow is punishing allies of Ukraine, where Russian forces launched an invasion in February.
Berlin’s temporary recourse to coal marks a turnaround for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ruling coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and the liberal FDP, which has vowed to wind down its coal usage by 2030.
“It’s bitter but indispensable for reducing gas consumption,” Habeck said.
The government has insisted that Russian gas will be needed for a while until alternative sources of energy, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) brought in by ship, are available.
Over the past months the German government has taken measures to fill gas storage facilities to 90 percent capacity by November to ensure enough gas is available as a heating fuel through the European winter.
Habeck said storage facilities, currently at 56.7 percent capacity, were still able to make up the shortfall from Russia with purchases from elsewhere, but he nevertheless described the situation as “serious” and said further measures may be necessary.
The German government recently called on citizens to cut back their energy use in light of the tense supply situation.
“It’s obvious that [Russian President] Putin’s strategy is to unsettle us by driving up the price and dividing us,” Habeck said. “We won’t let that happen.”
Gazprom has said that exports to countries that did not belong to the former Soviet Union were down 28.9 percent between January 1 and June 15 compared to the same period last year.
After cutting daily gas supplies to Germany and Italy, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said last week that Moscow will play by its own rules.
“Our product, our rules. We don’t play by rules we didn’t create,” he said during a panel discussion at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia’s second city.