FILE PHOTO: A liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker is tugged towards a thermal power station in Futtsu, east of Tokyo, Japan November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo/File Photo

When Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) appeared before the press on Tuesday after his visit to the cabinet meeting of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in Berlin, only a few people in specialist circles in the energy industry took notice.

When asked about a possible liquefied natural gas terminal in Lubmin, the Chancellor said, somewhat surprisingly: “I am very confident that we will get good results there.” The aim is to land liquefied natural gas (LNG) there by the turn of the year.

In fact, the plans in Lubmin are well advanced, as the Tagesspiegel learned exclusively. The first LNG deliveries could flow into the East German networks as early as the beginning of December.

However, the federal government is not behind the project in cooperation with a large energy company such as Uniper, which is currently building an LNG terminal in Wilhelmshaven. In Lubmin, a Brandenburg medium-sized company with just 20 employees wants to build an LNG terminal on its own.

“We have the ship, we have the LNG and we are in agreement with the port,” says Stephan Knabe, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Deutsche Regas. Knabe is actually an auditor and, as a Potsdam tax consultant, runs the largest consulting firm in Brandenburg.

But together with his old friend Ingo Wagner, longtime fund manager, now managing director and main shareholder of Deutsche Regas, he is now pushing into the German gas market, which is coming under increasing pressure in view of the curtailed Russian deliveries.

The two men have been working in the background on their project for months. “It was clear to us relatively quickly that there would sooner or later be a gas shortage,” says Knabe in an interview with the Tagesspiegel. Wagner, who also lives in Potsdam, has already managed large gas infrastructure projects during his time as a manager and therefore knows the relevant experts. They wanted to implement a hydrogen project in Lubmin back in 2016, but failed at the time. After the start of the war in Ukraine, the two pulled their old plans out of the drawer again and worked on a new solution – this time with LNG.

In the background, they let their old contacts play, looking for investors and partners for the gas supplies. According to their own statements, they have succeeded in doing so. They raise 100 million euros in equity. This enables the two to option one of only 48 FSRU ships worldwide – a special ship for regasification of liquefied natural gas. Preliminary contracts with gas suppliers for LNG from the world market have already been concluded.

Knabe assures them that they could land 4.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year in Lubmin. An enormous achievement that could contribute to security of supply in East Germany. For comparison: In 2020, around 86 billion cubic meters of gas were consumed throughout Germany. This could create 320 jobs in Lubmin. This information cannot be verified, but Knabe and Wagner are optimistic that gas will arrive in Lubmin as early as December 1, 2022. “We have to be faster than the temperatures drop.”

The federal government itself has chartered four such FSRU special ships under great pressure and with almost three billion euros. Two LNG terminals in Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel are now under construction. Lubmin has also been in talks for an LNG terminal for some time. Because the Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II pipelines land there, the necessary long-distance gas pipeline infrastructure is in place. The main lines OPAL, Eugal and NEL supply gas to the east and north of the republic in particular. But unlike Wilhelmshaven, Lubmin does not have a deep sea port. The Baltic Sea is flat, the Greifswalder Bodden is only a good ten meters deep in most places – not enough for the heavy LNG tankers.

But Knabe and his colleagues have found a solution for this as well. With small shuttle LNG ships, the cargo that the large tanker is carrying is to be unloaded a few kilometers off the coast and then taken to the port to the FSRU ship. According to Deutsche Regas, three such shuttle ships, which can transport 5,000 to 10,000 cubic meters of LNG, have been chartered. Although the process is significantly more complex than at other locations, Knabe believes that the gas will remain affordable: “Despite our pier, we are cost-competitive.”

It sounds like an adventurous undertaking, but several places in political Berlin confirm the seriousness of the undertaking to the Tagesspiegel. Transmission system operator Gascade, which is responsible for the onshore pipelines from Lubmin, confirms receipt of an application from Deutsche Regas. “The application has been available for a few days and is now being examined,” says a Gascade spokeswoman.

The mayor of Lubmin, Axel Vogt, who is also the managing director of the port, confirmed Knabe’s portrayal in an interview with the Tagesspiegel. He knows the plans and has signed a preliminary contract. “It all makes sense,” says Vogt, who has been mayor in Lubmin for 13 years. He is familiar with investors and entrepreneurs from the energy sector. In addition to Nord Stream, the power cables from several offshore wind farms also land here, the decommissioned nuclear power plant and an old interim storage facility are still being dismantled.

Vogt is happy that Deutsche Regas is bringing new infrastructure to Lubmin. “My interest is to show that we don’t have any huge investment ruins here,” he says. The mayor should also be happy about the business income and the mooring costs for the FSRU ship. Vogel is not surprised that two businessmen and not the federal government are now becoming active in Lubmin – but he is annoyed: “I would have liked someone from the federal government to contact us before the Federal Chancellor spoke about LNG from Lubmin.”

But the federal government is very reluctant to go into details, but government circles have confirmed the project. The Ministry of Economics is evasive when asked, referring to its own four FSRU ships and planned LNG terminals.

The Ministry does not comment on the plans of Deutsche Regas. “The federal government probably thought for a long time that we wanted one of their ships,” says Knabe.

Apparently, Scholz spoke to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig (SPD) about the Lubmin location before making his statements. Knabe and Wagner had spoken to them the evening before the joint cabinet meeting on the sidelines of the summer festival of the state representation of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in Berlin.

The state government in Schwerin does not comment specifically on Deutsche Regas. “Various projects are currently being discussed and examined,” says Economics Minister Reinhard Meyer (SPD).

Questions about a possible investor and operator would also have to be clarified. “It’s good that the federal government also seems to recognize that the Baltic Sea is being considered as a potential location,” says Meyer.

This would strengthen the security of supply for East Germany. That is also the main concern of the two Potsdamers, Stephan Knabe assures: “What motivates us most is that we can do something for our country.”

In East Germany, nobody should freeze in winter. He also believes in LNG as a bridging technology for hydrogen. Green hydrogen should also land in Lubmin in the medium term – Knabe has not yet given up on the old plans.

But first, there are still many hurdles. Numerous environmental, water protection and hazard protection approvals are still pending. “We still have many challenges,” says Knabe. “But there is a solution for everything.”