Germany and other European countries are facing the prospect of returning to coal and rationing gas supplies. On Monday, Germany’s economic minister Robert Habeck announced that Germany is planning to increase its gas storage capacity and considering reactivating coal-fired power plants. The decision was prompted by Russia’s restriction of natural gas to Western Europe over sanctions that were imposed in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The German government previously had been seeking to discontinue coal-fired production of electricity in favor of alternative green energy sources. Habeck, a member of the Green Party, said the decision was “painful” but a “sheer necessity.”
Along with Germany, the Netherlands and Austria are also being pushed to expand their reliance on coal. Dutch coal plants, formerly restricted to one-third of their output, were allowed to operate without restriction on Monday. On Sunday, the Austrian government approved a plan to convert a gas plant to operate with coal should the need arise. Other countries will likely face a similar decision, given that European Union countries rely on Russia for an average of 40 percent of their natural gas supplies.
Still, Germany hopes to divest itself from its coal power plants by 2030. Economy ministry spokesman Stephan Gabriel Haufe declared on Monday that Germany’s aspirations were “not in doubt at all” and “more important than ever.”
Haufe and his countrymen might want to rethink their 2030 benchmark. Along with showcasing the country’s energy vulnerability, the Russian gas restriction highlights the abject failure of Germany’s green energy project. In 2000, the Green and Socialist-controlled government passed an initiative mandating that electricity providers purchase renewable energy at fixed prices. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel continued the initiative by shutting down eight nuclear reactors and vowing to shut down the remaining ones. But Merkel’s plan to replace these reactors by adding 25,000 megawatts of wind turbine power by 2030 fell flat as the wind projects were delayed due to unreliability and an exorbitant one trillion–euro price tag.
Now the German government’s decisions have come back to haunt them. Having discarded a reliable avenue of domestic energy production, Germany is left to fall back on old systems and face the possibility of rationing natural gas. In short, Germany’s green tunnel vision may leave it literally powerless in the face of Russia’s gas restrictions.
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