Robert Habeck makes no secret of his dilemma. “This is a legislative package full of unreasonable demands,” emphasized the Economics Minister before the Prime Ministers in the Bundesrat. The consensus that currently exists will be strained again in the second half of the year.
“As far as prices are concerned, but also as far as the expansion of renewable energies and lines is concerned.” However, Russian President Vladimir Putin destroyed the European peace order. “He’s using energy as a weapon, the fossil fuel markets are exploding because of Putin. This package is a response to this aggression.” Rarely has there been such a wealth of far-reaching decisions before a parliamentary summer recess, all of which have to do with the military and economic turning point conjured up by Putin.
Due to the throttling of deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline and the feared longer-term delivery stop from next week, the Bundestag and Bundesrat have cleared the way for more coal-fired power plants to be used to generate electricity. Even those that have already gone offline.
The aim is to save and store gas in this way. At the same time, state aid for ailing energy companies such as Uniper is made easier. The group is particularly active in the Russian natural gas business and now has to buy the gas elsewhere for a lot of money.
Shortly after the decision by the Bundestag and Bundesrat to reform the Energy Security Act, Uniper requested state aid, and the federal government could step in for a limited time. The gas importer also proposes being able to pass price increases on to customers. As an option, a pay-as-you-go system can be created so that the increased purchase prices can be passed on more evenly to customers – but the federal government is trying to avoid this because of the already considerable price increases. Uniper plays a central role in Germany’s energy supply and supplies many municipal utilities.
It is particularly painful for the Greens, but they are fighting with all their might against another lever, the extension of the operating times of the last three nuclear power plants Isar 2, Neckarwestheim 2 and Emsland, which, despite the new situation, are scheduled to go offline at the end of the year.
“We will call up the gas replacement reserve as soon as the law comes into force,” announced Habeck. “That means – you have to be honest – then more coal-fired power plants for a transitional period. That’s bitter, but in this situation it’s almost necessary to reduce gas consumption. We must and we will do everything we can to store as much gas as possible in summer and autumn.” The gas storage facilities should be full by winter. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) emphasizes that the remaining three nuclear power plants should also produce as much electricity as possible in the summer in order to massively reduce gas consumption. Because that should also mitigate the massive price jumps.
But ramping up additional, particularly climate-damaging coal-fired power plants is not that easy. The power plant operator Leag still sees big question marks for its lignite-fired power plant in Jänschwalde, one of the largest in Europe. “There are hurdles that we cannot easily overcome,” says a spokesman for Lausitz Energie Kraftwerke AG (Leag). It is about emissions standards that cannot be met for the power plant blocks in the necessary time, so the federal government must make an exception for lignite. “If we are supposed to be available in the fall, we won’t be able to do it without a special permit.” A technical upgrade cannot be achieved by the fall.
In the field of renewable energies, a comprehensive package of laws was approved for a faster expansion of green electricity from wind and sun. The proportion of electricity generated from renewable energies is to be increased to at least 80 percent by 2030; it is currently just under 50 percent.
To this end, two percent of the entire federal area on land is to be designated for wind turbines – more than doubling. But several federal states have so far blocked this and rely on large distances between wind turbines and housing estates, so the implementation here is still completely open.
Habeck’s ministry speaks of the “biggest energy policy amendment in decades”. In the future, renewable energies would be in the public interest and serve public safety. “That’s crucial to increase the pace,” said Habeck. A total of five amendments to the law on the expansion of green energy passed the Federal Council. In addition to the area targets for onshore wind power and the acceleration of approval procedures, changes in the energy industry law provide for the faster expansion of electricity grids and electric charging stations and stricter control of fuel prices.
In addition, work is being done nationwide on specifications for energy savings with a view to winter and the heating season, and Habeck is also making the federal states responsible. “Something is also possible at the state level, maybe even more than at the federal level overall.” For example, he calls for the heating regulations of public buildings to be checked.
In addition to the economic and energy policy challenges, the Bundestag and Bundesrat also gave a political response in the direction of Moscow on Friday. Germany was one of the first of the 30 previous NATO member states to ratify the admission of Finland and Sweden to the alliance.
In the Bundestag, the SPD, the Greens, the FDP and the Union voted for northern expansion. The AfD parliamentary group largely agreed, the left against. The Bundesrat, the Chamber of the Federal States, then approved the accession.
Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) emphasized that Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine has so far achieved exactly the opposite of what he actually wanted. “The West, which he despises so much, is getting stronger, not weaker.” For a long time, Finns and Swedes were convinced that neutrality would guarantee their security. Finland shares a 1300 km border with Russia. Lambrecht emphasized that with the admission of the two EU states to the alliance, the balance of power would shift: “Europe’s power will increase and the US will be relieved.” In order for the admission to be complete, ratification must take place in all NATO countries.