BERLIN – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz insisted Tuesday that his country was well-prepared to tackle a possible energy shortage due to Russia's squeeze on European gas supplies, as fears grow about the rising prices that will hit consumers across the continent this winter.
Speaking at the start of a two-day government retreat, Scholz cited Germany’s decision to reactivate oil and coal-fired power plants, mandate the filling of natural gas storage facilities and lease floating liquefied natural gas terminals following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A decision on extending the operating life of Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants is also expected soon.
“All of this and many further measures have contributed to us being in a much better situation as far as supply security is concerned than could have been foreseen a couple of months ago,” Scholz told reporters at the government guest house in Meseberg, north of Berlin.
“We will be able to cope quite well with the threats that we face from Russia, which is using gas as part of its strategy in the war against Ukraine,” he said.
Scholz said Germany's gas storage facilities are already over 80% full, more than they were at this time last year, and the government is expected to agree on more measures shortly to help consumers cope with steeply rising energy prices.
Russia has cut off or reduced natural gas to a dozen European Union countries. Since spring, EU leaders have been appealing to the public to use less gas over the summer to build storage for winter. The bloc has proposed that nations voluntary cut their use by 15%. It’s also seeking the power to impose mandatory cuts across the 27-nation bloc if there is a severe gas shortage.
Seven Baltic Sea nations — Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Denmark — on Tuesday announced a commitment to a seven-fold increase of wind power production by 2030 as a way to free northern Europe from its dependence on Russian natural gas.
The Netherlands announced Tuesday that it had managed to dial down natural gas use by 25% during the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2021, with energy-intensive industries and power stations leading the way.
In France, the minister for energy transition, Agnes Pannier-Runacher, said the country's strategic energy reserves were 90% full. Energy-saving plans are still essential in the coming weeks to avoid possible rationing in peak winter cold season, she said. France rolled out an “energy sobriety” plan in June, targeting a 10% reduction in energy use by 2024.
“We need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, which is a total interruption of deliveries (from Russia)," Pannier-Runacher told broadcaster France Inter.
Russia's state-controlled energy company Gazprom further reduced gas deliveries to the French company Engie, raising fears that Moscow might cut off gas completely as political leverage over the war in Ukraine.
Gazprom informed Engie of a reduction in gas deliveries, starting Tuesday, because of “a disagreement between the parties on the application of several contracts." Deliveries for Engie from Gazprom have significantly dropped since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, with recent monthly supply of 1.5 TWh, which compares to Engie’s total annual supplies in Europe above 400 TWh, the company said.
Engie has already secured enough gas to meet its commitments to customers, it said.
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Monday urged businesses to make energy saving plans, warning that companies would be hit first should the government be forced into rationing gas and electricity.
In an effort to wean themselves off Russian gas and reduce their climate impact, European countries have significantly ramped up efforts to build wind, solar and other renewable energies.
On wind power, seven EU countries agree to set combined goals for offshore wind in the Baltic Sea region of at least 19.6 GW by 2030. The present capacity of the Baltic Sea region is currently under 3 gigawatts. Under the plan, up to 1,700 new offshore wind turbines would produce power equivalent to almost 20 nuclear power plants, providing enough electricity for up to 30 million households.
"(Russian President Vladimir) Putin is using energy as a weapon and has put Europe on the brink of an energy crisis with skyrocketing prices," Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the new wind energy plan also will allow the countries “to have more affordable energy prices” while her Latvian counterpart, Arturs Krisjanis Karins, said “this can be done if we're working together.”
"That is amazing. Up to 20 gigawatt by 2030,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said during the one-day Baltic Sea Energy Security Summit in Copenhagen. “It is already one-third of the overall EU ambition for offshore wind capacity by 2030.”
The energy crisis has also prompted European countries to call for previously shelved energy projects to be revived, such as a gas pipeline linking the Iberian Peninsula with the rest of Europe.
, attended also by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez,
Barbara Surk reported from Nice, France, and Jan M. Olsen from Copenhagen, Denmark. Geir Moulson in Berlin and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.