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Germany prepares new gas-saving plan, despite Russia turning back on the taps

The German government is ramping up plans to conserve gas for the winter heating season despite a partial return to deliveries through the Nord Stream pipeline, Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said Thursday.

The measures will require citizens to cut back on their energy consumption and even opt for alternative fuels like coal to make up for reduced gas usage.

The announcement comes after earlier in the day, gas flows through the Nord Stream pipeline connecting Russia with Germany via the Baltic Sea reached 40 percent of capacity as Gazprom resumed deliveries, which had been paused due to maintenance work.

“Technically, there would be nothing to prevent Nord Stream … from returning to full capacity,” said Habeck at a virtual press conference. “The lower utilization rate of roughly 40 percent is clearly political and confirms that we cannot rely on supplies.”

Habeck also accused Russia of “using its power to blackmail Europe and Germany” before announcing a series of measures aimed at boosting energy security.

One measure will require gas storage facilities to be filled to 75 percent of capacity by September 1, up to 85 percent on October 1 and 95 percent on November 1.

The aim is to reach these increased targets by reducing overall gas consumption, for example by mandating that unused office spaces, hallways and storage rooms should no longer be heated. Further measures aimed at cutting household gas consumption would also ban using gas to heat swimming pools.

Additionally, reserve lignite coal power plants can be brought back into service from October under the plan, while the federal transport ministry will draft rules for running trains on oil and coal power.

As POLITICO recently reported, the government is also planning to allow energy companies to pass on higher gas prices to consumers, meaning bills will be higher. But Habeck indicated Thursday that this plan should be accompanied by financial support measures for households, saying the government must provide “relief for those who cannot bear such price adjustments” — contradicting statements made by Finance Minister Christian Lindner.

Lindner, whose liberal Free Democrats govern with Habeck’s Greens and the Social Democrats, said Wednesday that Germany had no financial flexibility to dole out further support programs for citizens.

Habeck, however, argued that “most people in the federal government” share his perspective. The gas-saving measures must still be formally adopted by the Cabinet.

Still, analysts are optimistic that storage inventories will be sufficient to meet expected demand over the winter season so long as a prolonged cold snap doesn’t increase household demand.

“Gas demand is expected to be 12 percent lower than previous winters, due to high prices and demand-mitigation measures,” said Penny Leake, an analyst at consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

The chief of Germany’s energy regulator, Klaus Müller, also said Thursday that current supplies alongside demand reduction should be enough to avoid a gas emergency situation this winter as long as “there are no further exogenous shocks.”

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