At the end of August, at least that is the plan, gas consumers can calculate: The amount of the new gas surcharge will then be known. So far, Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) has been guessing and has given a range of 1.5 to five cents per kilowatt hour.
Last year, household customers paid an average of 6.68 cents per kilowatt hour for natural gas. About half of all apartments in this country are heated with gas. The levy is not only paid by private households, but also by companies. And recipients of district heating: “We are still in the calculations on how exactly the levy should be made here,” reports the Federal Ministry of Economics (BMWK).
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On the basis of the Energy Security Act, the additional purchasing costs will be passed on to all gas consumers from October. Not 100 percent, but still 90 percent. If, for example, Uniper, as the largest gas trader in Germany, no longer gets enough gas and therefore has to buy on a daily basis and pays three times as much for the gas, then the gas consumer community bears 90 percent of it.
Consumers who have a price guarantee in their contracts and hope to be spared are wrong, warns Udo Sieverding, energy expert at the North Rhine-Westphalia consumer advice center. Because this guarantee does not protect against government levies or taxes. “Everyone has to pay,” says the consumer advocate.
However, this only applies to gas customers. And they are already suffering from the high prices when they need a new contract. Since July last year, prices for a family household have increased from 1300 euros to 3415 euros per year. Those who heat with electricity or oil are spared the surcharge. That’s not fair, Sieverding thinks: “It’s about social solidarity, tax increases would make more sense than a levy.” He also fears that more and more fan heaters will be plugged into the sockets in winter and put a strain on the power grid.
There are several reasons why only gas consumers have to pay the surcharge and households with oil heating, for example, are not involved in the joint financing of the higher procurement costs. Gas is the scarcest commodity among energy sources, and the high price increases efforts to save. A surcharge that affects everyone is a serious intervention that must be proportionate and legally secure; the restriction to gas takes this into account.
Finally, the practical implementation: The additional costs and then the amount of the levy can be determined relatively easily. The long-distance gas network operators in Germany – around a dozen companies – have founded Trading Hub Europe GmbH (THE) as the market area manager for the German gas market.
THE is currently looking at the prices at which Uniper and other traders have to buy gas every trading day because they are getting less from Russia than agreed. Then it is calculated how high the levy must be so that 90 percent of the additional procurement costs are borne by all consumers via levy. The same amount per kilowatt hour should apply to all customers, regardless of where and when they signed their contract.
The importers still have to bear their costs themselves until the end of September, “so that the burden is distributed fairly from this point of view,” the Ministry of Economic Affairs announced. The surcharge will probably come into effect on October 1st and, according to the current status, will be levied for a year and a half. The ministry explains: “The surcharge should apply for a limited period of time until September 30th, 2024.” The period from April 2024 to September is due to the administrative effort with which the claims of the gas traders affected by the high gas prices are checked.
The Federal Association of Industry advocates a price cap, for example by extending the levy over time or staggered amounts. “Otherwise the gas surcharge threatens to massively undermine the competitiveness of the companies.” A surcharge of five cents/kilowatt hour would increase the gas costs per workplace in some companies by a good 20,000 euros.
The Federal Association of the Energy Industry welcomes the levy as a measure for the quick and reliable transfer of replacement procurement costs and thus “to maintain the liquidity of the energy supply companies”. The charm of this solution lies in the fact that the charges are “levied equally on all end consumers and without privileging certain customer groups”. This enables a transparent calculation of the levy and a fair distribution of the burden.
All gas consumers have to pay more. Whether and how the taxpayer community will bear part of the additional burden as part of a further relief package will be decided in the autumn. Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has invited the social partners to a second meeting of the concerted action on September 15th. The DGB called for an energy price cap for private households. That would mean that a basic need for electricity and gas is set for every adult and every child.
Ramona Pop (Greens), Berlin Senator for Economic Affairs until last fall and now head of the consumer advice centers, warns of a redistribution in favor of companies as a result of the new levy. “The price disclosure may only serve to avoid insolvency of the companies concerned, not to protect bonuses or dividends,” Pop told the Tagesspiegel.