German towns and cities are preparing for a “nightmare scenario” of winter energy rationing, repurposing vaccination centres as “warm halls” for people no longer able to afford to heat their homes.
Federal economics and energy minister Robert Habeck says he is “under no illusions” that a winter of discontent looms if war-related energy shortages from Russia force him to choose between heating homes and powering factories.
With German gas reserves just two-thirds full, his ministry is urging people to save energy wherever they can, even running advertisements for water-saving shower heads. Berlin has promised heavy industry cash in hand if they can reduce their energy bills.
“This will put Germany to the test like at no time in the recent past,” said Mr Habeck of the looming energy challenge. “That’s why we have to prevent this scenario, that will stretch solidarity to the limit, with everything we have.”
Germany’s most important source of Russian gas will cease delivery for at least 10 days from Monday morning to allow Gazprom service its Nord Stream 1 undersea gas pipeline. Many in Berlin, including Mr Habeck, fear the state-controlled operate will find a reason to keep the pipeline switched off.
Last month it reduced gas flow through the pipeline to just 40 per cent of capacity, blaming missing gas turbines that Siemens sent to a Canadian subsidiary for servicing – and which got stuck there because of sanctions against Russia.
Though Berlin has dismissed this as a “specious argument”, Canada announced on Sunday it would allow the return of the turbines. “Absent a necessary supply of natural gas, the German economy will suffer very significant hardship and Germans themselves will be at risk of being unable to heat their homes as winter approaches,” said Canada’s natural resources minister Jonathan Wilkinson in a statement.
Ukraine reacted angrily to the news, accusing Germany of giving into Moscow “blackmail” with a sanctions workaround, agreeing to accept the turbines from Canada and forward them to Russia.
The Berlin government is working against the clock to build two liquefied gas terminals on the northern German coast, with temporary terminals on ships a possibility.
Months before the country’s heating goes back on, corporate landlords are already rationing hot water, while tenants are reporting a surge in their prepayments.
Germany’s southwest city of Ludwigshafen has begun reconfiguring a sports centre, used to vaccinated people against Covid-19, to house people day and night. “With an eye on the autumn and winter we’re currently preparing for all emergency scenarios,” mayor Jutta Steinruck told the tabloid Bild.
Meanwhile Uniper, one of Germany’s largest importers of Russian gas, has asked Berlin for a bailout saying it “cannot endure for much longer”. Grappling with drops in Russian gas deliveries, the Düsseldorf-based company has bought more expensive gas on spot markets while tied into fixed price contracts with customers. It is forecasting losses of up to €10 billion by year-end.
Last week Berlin rushed through legislation to avoid energy company collapse, but has urged Uniper to ask its corporate shareholders for liquidity first.