Thursday, February 2

The Netherlands joins Germany and Austria in wanting to recover coal in the face of Russian gas cuts


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Although there are no supply bottlenecks yet, the situation could deteriorate rapidly due to reductions in deliveries by RussiaThe Dutch Energy Minister, Rob Jetten, has justified the Government’s decision to activate the early warning level of the emergency plan, which implies that coal-fired power plants will return to full power at least until the end of 2024.

As a measure to reduce its climate-damaging CO2 emissions, the Dutch government had limited the use of these power plants at 35% and foresaw a progressive withdrawal from the operation that is now receding on the horizon. The gas that is saved from now on thanks to the increase in electricity produced from coal will not immediately become part of the network, but will be used first to replenish reserves for the winter.

This movement represents a step backwards in the fight for climate protection that Jetten has explained by alleging that “the risk of doing nothing is too great.”

Russia stopped supplying gas to the Netherlands in May, at which time Russian remittances accounted for 15% of the country’s needs. For the time being, the government prefers not to restart production from its own gas fields in Groningen, in the northeast. Due to numerous earthquakes, production there had been drastically reduced and is due to stop from 2023. Only “as a last resort” is it being considered to pump more gas from Groningen again, the minister has said. Such a crisis could arise in the event of major bottlenecks or if supply in Germany becomes problematic.

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The Government of Austria has also announced the reopening of a coal plant, given the decrease in deliveries of Russian gas. This is the Mellach thermal power plant, located in the south, an operation in which the Verbund group, the main electricity supplier in Austria, will participate. The objective is that “in an emergency, it can once again produce electricity from coal”, the Austrian Foreign Ministry has announced, estimating that the process of starting up its operation will take “several months”. The Mellach plant closed in 2020, to contribute to the government goal of producing 100% of energy from renewable sources by 2030. In addition to returning to coal, Austria has decided to increase its strategic gas reserves by 58 .7%, until completely covering the consumption of at least two winter months.

On the path of the German Government

These countries follow the path marked out by the German government, made up of Social Democrats (SPD), Liberals (FDP) and Greens. The German Minister of Economy and Climate, the green Robert Habeck, explained that “in order to reduce gas consumption, it is necessary to use less gas in the production of electricity. Instead, we will have to go back to using more coal plants. In this way, Germany leaves climate defense in the background, after last week the Russian Gazprom announced a 70% cut in the gas it supplies to German operators through the gas pipeline North Stream 1alleging a technical problem that the German Network Agency describes as a “false excuse” and the Berlin government understands as a “political measure”.

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“It is a bitter measure, but it is essential to reduce gas consumption,” Habeck acknowledged in a statement, confirming that a law in this direction will be adopted by early summer. In this framework, the government will again allow the use of so-called “reserve” coal plants in the face of the “worsening” of the gas market situation. Although the recovery of coal-fired power plants is presented by the German government as a provisional measure, Habeck stresses that “we are not delusional, we are facing a test of strength with Putin that will not end overnight.” The new package of measures announced this weekend by the German government also includes a system of “auctions” for the sale of gas to industries, which would reduce consumption in the German manufacturing sector.

The State will offer, in a device similar to a bidding contest, a remuneration to the companies that promise the most important energy savings. This mechanism has been agreed with the industry. “It will guide theconsumption reduction there where the damage is less important, ”said the German Association of Manufacturers of (VDMA) in a statement on Sunday.

Faced with the urgency of the situation, the German government also emphasizes energy savings.

“Every kilowatt counts,” insists the minister, who has launched an extensive advertising campaign aimed at the general public and businesses. “The security of supply is guaranteed” but “the situation is serious”, he defines, justifying the preparation of a rationing system for users and companies, in addition to “other legislative saving measures”, such as the limit on temperatures required in rental apartments, if gas reserves do not increase before winter, now at 56% of the capacity of the deposits.

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