Fearing Russian supply cuts, Berlin puts oil and coal power plants on standby

Germany is racing to ensure sufficient coal and oil power plant capacity in order to be able to replace Russian gas, should supplies be cut. [EPA-EFE/SASCHA STEINBACH]

The German ministry for economy and climate action is ensuring that significant coal and oil power plant capacities are at the ready in case the country’s Russian gas supply is cut, according to a government plan seen by EURACTIV.

The preparations are a sign that Berlin is planning for the worst, following a back-and-forth over Gazprom Germania and the Kremlin’s recent decision to cut supplies to three EU countries.

Germany continues to be highly reliant on Russian fossil gas. The burning of fossil gas generated about 15% of Germany’s electricity in 2021, although the 2022 share is expected to be slightly lower due to high prices.

Additionally, on 31 December this year, Germany will shut off its last nuclear reactors, reducing the amount of domestic electricity production in the country.

To ensure a sufficient power supply, coal is back in the spotlight. Around 6.9 gigawatts (GW) of rock coal power plant capacity, 1.9 GW of lignite and 1.6 GW of oil should be ready in case the Russian gas supply stops, the ministry’s plan states.

On 18 May, EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans admitted that the EU had “no choice” but to continue burning coal, which is by far the most carbon-emitting fossil fuel and contributes to air pollution.

Germany may have to do just that. While Berlin wants to stop using coal entirely from 2030, it will now pay coal power plant operators up to €1 billion a year to keep plants at the ready.

Under the plan, plant operators will be obligated to be ready to enter full and continued operations as of a certain date. In exchange, their expenses up until will be covered. Additionally, operators will be obligated to store sufficient quantities of fuel.

Meanwhile, the country is also fast-tracking building the infrastructure needed to import liquefied fossil gas from countries like Qatar, Senegal and the US.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has already noted his interest in importing gas from Senegal, saying on 22 May, “It is a matter worth pursuing intensively, it is our joint interest to make progress on this.”

Overall, these measures should be able to prevent drops in electricity production if gas supplies from Russia are stopped.

To ensure the remaining gas is directed to heating and industrial use, the German government will penalise gas-fired electricity generation.

This will come with a higher carbon footprint as generating electricity from coal and oil tends to emit double the amount of CO2-equivalent of gas power. It again puts in question Germany’s Energiewende, which wanted to use fossil gas as a bridge from coal and nuclear power to renewables.

Germany reactivates coal power plants amid Russian gas supply threats

As Germany closes its last nuclear reactors, it is also reactivating old coal power plants to ensure electricity supply security amid Russian threats to turn off the gas tap.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Kira Taylor]

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