FILE PHOTO: A combination of file photos shows the logos of five of the largest publicly traded oil companies; BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and Total. REUTERS/File Photo

At first glance, two trends don’t go together these days. On the one hand, Europe’s energy companies are benefiting enormously from the sharp rise in oil and gas prices. The British energy giant Shell quintupled its profit in the quarter from April to June to almost 18 billion dollars. The German RWE Group, which mainly does its business in electricity generation and gas trading, has also sharply revised its profit forecast for the current year upwards.

On the other hand, Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck announced that the planned gas levy could cost households up to a few hundred euros per year – and that in addition to the sharp rise in gas costs that consumers have to bear.

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How can it be that energy companies are making high profits while at the same time private households are groaning under the high energy costs? And why should they then also support energy companies with a surcharge?

The gas surcharge, which will apply from the beginning of October, is intended to support German gas importers – such as Uniper, VNG and Wingas – who are threatened with insolvency: Due to the supply failures of Russian gas, they have to fear that they will no longer be able to service long-term contracts with their customers. They now buy expensive gas from other suppliers. Buyers currently pay 205 euros for one megawatt hour of gas – in June it was 160 euros.

They would hardly be able to bear these additional costs without the compensation that they can now claim through the gas surcharge. However, if the gas importers go bankrupt, their customers are at risk – above all municipal utilities and large companies. A German gas importer cannot be compared with a group like Shell because it has to buy gas but does not produce it itself.

The situation is different for German electricity producers: Gas prices are also driving up electricity prices – there is currently good money to be made with electricity. The wholesale prices on the stock exchange have reached a new record of just under 500 euros per megawatt hour. Hard coal has also become expensive on the world market because an embargo against Russian hard coal has been in effect since August. Nevertheless, the profits are juicy, especially with electricity from hard coal.

“Operators of hard coal-fired power plants can expect net yields of 100 to 250 euros per megawatt hour for the next few months,” according to the rough estimate of energy expert Felix Matthes from the Öko-Institut.

The energy group RWE is a special case in this market – on the one hand it generates electricity, on the other hand it imports gas, so it is also affected by Russia’s supply throttling. In the first half of the year, the company also did good business with gas. On Wednesday, RWE reported ad hoc operating income (Ebitda) of five to 5.5 billion euros instead of the previously expected 3.6 to four billion.

The slump in gas imports from Russia apparently does not hurt the group much – even if it had booked gas in Russia in the amount of 15 terawatt hours by 2023. With this amount, RWE is significantly less exposed than Uniper, the largest German importer of Russian gas. On Friday, however, a company spokeswoman did not want to comment on the question of whether RWE would make use of the gas levy announced by Habeck. She referred to capital market rules that prohibit the company from providing detailed information shortly before presenting the final half-year figures on August 1st.

Thanks to higher prices, the German-Russian oil and gas producer Wintershall Dea from Kassel is on the winning side. As a non-importer, he at least does not benefit from the gas surcharge – just as little as the German subsidiary of the Shell group, for example. You, the French Total Energies, the Spanish Repsol and the Austrian OMV also presented excellent half-year figures due to high oil and gas prices.