Germany authorizes the start-up of its already retired coal plants to save gas | International

Residential area in front of the Niederaussem coal plant, in Germany, this Wednesday.
Residential area in front of the Niederaussem coal plant, in Germany, this Wednesday.INA FASSBENDER (AFP)

Clear way for coal-fired power plants to restart in Germany. The Government of the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz has authorized this Wednesday that 27 of these facilities, which for the most part had already stopped working due to their high greenhouse gas emissions, return to the electricity market. The objective: save as much gas as possible this summer and thus prioritize filling the tanks in the face of a winter that seems very complicated, a “nightmare” scenario, as described by the Minister of Economy and Climate, the green Robert Habeck.

The German authorities hold their breath before what may happen on the 21st, when the 10-day ordinary maintenance that the Russian gas company Gazprom is carrying out on the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline ends. Moscow decided in mid-June to reduce deliveries of hydrocarbon by two thirds alleging a technical problem that Berlin considers an excuse. Since this Monday, the technical shutdown has kept the flow of gas through the main source of supply to Germany at zero, and concerns are growing that Russia decides that the cut is permanent. Gazprom has made veiled threats not to reopen the pipeline. In a brief statement made public this Wednesday, he points out that “he cannot guarantee” that the Nord Stream will start up again and refers to a turbine that is being held in Canada due to sanctions against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine.

In this context, the calls for savings are taking place in Germany, where the authorities are trying to obtain an alternative supply before the cold arrives. Going to coal is a painful but necessary measure, said Habeck. The Executive trusts that it will be temporary and maintains that the ambitious commitment to completely eliminate coal from electricity production by 2030 remains in force. That is the date to which the parties that make up the government coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and and liberals.

The Executive provides the administrative means so that the coal plants can reopen, but the final decision will be up to the operators, who will have to calculate if it is a good business for them and if they are in a position to start them up. In many cases the workforce was reduced to a minimum after the move to the reserve and it is not clear that they can quickly obtain the necessary coal to start producing. These are 16 plants already disconnected from the grid and another 11 plants that are still operating, but were forced to stop burning coal between 2022 and 2023 as part of the German decarbonization process. In total, they would add an additional 8.5 gigawatts.

“We want to save gas in the summer to fill our storage for the winter,” said Habeck. The deposits are at 64.6% capacity, still far from the 80% they should reach by October 1 and 90% by November 1. Since Russia, within the framework of the conflict it maintains with Europe due to the invasion of Ukraine, decided to reduce deliveries to just 40% of what was agreed by contract, the filling of the deposits has been very slow, around 0.3 or 0.4% each day. Berlin is preparing for the worst: a possible total gas cut that could result in rationing this winter. “[Con la decisión sobre las centrales de carbón] We are reinforcing our precautions and arming ourselves even more for a worsening of the situation on the energy market,” Habeck added.

The authorization is part of a package of measures presented last month with which it is intended to reduce gas consumption in the electricity sector. The Executive will allocate a fund of 15,000 million euros to buy gas on the market and continue filling the deposits and in parallel a gas auction model is being designed so that the industries receive incentives to save.

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The turbine as a pretext

Germany adopts measures while the Russian state gas company Gazprom avoids committing itself that the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline will operate normally in the future, reports from Moscow Javier G. Cuesta. The company has denounced in a brief statement that it has no guarantee that the part that has been blocked in Canada by sanctions will return. “Under these circumstances it is not possible to draw an objective conclusion about the future development of the situation and ensure the safe operation of the Portovaya compressor station, which is a critical facility for the gas pipeline,” says the Kremlin’s energy arm. “Gazprom does not have a single document that allows Siemens to take out of Canada the gas turbine engine that is being repaired there,” adds the Russian giant.

However, a few days ago, the Minister of Natural Resources of Canada, Jonathan Wilkinson, announced that his Government was going to issue a “revocable and limited time” permit to allow the return of the parts repaired in its territory to the Russian gas company, which has been subject to sanctions by the North American country for its offensive on Ukraine. Berlin took it for granted that its pressures had had an effect and that the turbine was indeed going to leave Canada, first passing through Germany, from there to be sent to Russia.

Gazprom’s statement on the matter is “deliberately vague”, notes Georg Zachman, researcher at the Bruegel study center in Berlin. This expert in energy and climate policy assures EL PAÍS that with it Russia intends to “foster uncertainty” and generate political pressure in Germany, “probably to obtain additional concessions” before resuming the flow of gas.

Katja Yafimava, a gas specialist at Oxford University’s Institute for Energy Studies, tries to “decipher” what Gazprom means with her statement: “Until and unless Gazprom is presented with a document (an exemption?) that confirms the right of Siemens to bring the repaired turbine from Canada, it is impossible to comment on the future operation of Nord Stream”, details on his Twitter account. The expert believes that more than a threat, it is a warning that the future flow of the Nord Stream will depend on when the turbine is returned. If this “does not arrive when the maintenance period ends, on July 21, and it seems likely that it cannot be delivered so quickly, flows could, at best, continue at the previous level of 40% or even decrease. even more”, he explains by email to EL PAÍS.

The European Commission expressed its satisfaction with the decision of the Canadian authorities to establish an exception, considering that this “eliminates” one of the excuses used by the Vladimir Putin regime to reduce the supply of gas to the German market. It’s a statement, the Commission reported that it has been in “close contact” with both Canada and Germany and the Siemens company. Following the announcement, the Ukrainian government has protested what it considers “an absolutely unacceptable exception to the sanctions regime against Russia.” On Monday, the Executive of Volodímir Zelenski summoned the charge d’affaires of the Canadian Embassy in kyiv to discuss the matter.

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