BERLIN — Germany will restart coal-fired power plants in order to conserve natural gas, the country’s economy minister announced Sunday, amid concerns about a looming supply shortage after Russia cut gas deliveries to Europe last week.
The move was part of a series of measures, including new incentives for companies to burn less natural gas, announced by Germany as Europe takes steps to deal with reduced energy supplies from Russia.
Since European countries imposed sanctions to punish Moscow after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Russia has responded by cutting off gas supplies to several European countries. Last week, Russian energy giant Gazprom also reduced flows through the Nord Stream pipeline, an important undersea link that carries gas directly to Germany.
Gazprom blamed maintenance issues for the reductions, but European leaders have called the move a political tactic by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
“The situation is serious,” Robert Habeck, the economy minister who is also Germany’s vice chancellor, said in a statement Sunday, laying out the steps that would be taken to ensure that more gas is available to divert into storage so the country has enough to get through the winter. They include bringing back online coal-fired power plants that had been drawn down to reduce carbon emissions, although the statement did not specify how many plants would be affected.
“That’s bitter, but it’s simply necessary in this situation to lower gas usage,” said Habeck, a member of the environmentalist Greens party. “The gas storage tanks must be full by winter. That is our top priority.”
Germany has relied heavily on energy imports from Russia for decades. Last year, Russian imports accounted for 55% of the country’s natural gas supply. But after Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Berlin began purchasing gas from Norway, the United States and the United Arab Emirates, reducing its purchases from Russia by about 20%.
The government has nevertheless insisted that Russian gas will be needed to ensure storage tanks are at least 90% full by November — in keeping with a law passed earlier this year to ensure a sufficient supply of natural gas, which is used largely for heating and manufacturing. One-third of Germany’s homes are heated with natural gas, while it is used for only about 15% of all electricity generation.
A law allowing a return to the use of coal in power generation is expected to pass next month. By the end of the summer, a model should be in place that would allow companies to auction gas, as part of efforts to encourage Germany’s industrial sector to reduce its reliance on the fuel.
Last week, Germany’s powerful industrial lobby, the Federation of German Industry, said companies were already switching to coal, as part of efforts to make more natural gas available for storage. Many have also been seeking alternative, more sustainable sources of energy, it said, while emphasizing that such transitions take time.
The German government recently called on citizens to cut back their energy use in light of the strained supply situation.
“It’s obviously Putin’s strategy to make us insecure, to drive up prices and divide us,” Habeck said. “We will not allow that to happen. We will defend ourselves resolutely, precisely and thoughtfully.”