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Scholz: Switch back to coal and oil 'temporary'

July 16, 2022

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says a decision to fire up coal and oil power plants again — to cushion the impact of energy shortages because of Russia's war in Ukraine — is only temporary.

A lignite-powered electricity plant near Cologne
Germany is already heavily reliant on fossil fuels, with some 45% of electricity produced this wayImage: Herbert Sauerwein

In a video message released on Saturday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Berlin's decision to reactivate oil and coal-fired power plants was only temporary and that his government would stick to its commitments on climate goals.

Germany is bringing the fossil fuel power plants back onto the grid to make up for an expected shortfall because of cuts in natural gas supplies from Russia amid the war in Ukraine.

What did Scholz say?

In the video message, the chancellor expressed regret that Germany is set to fire up 16 dormant fossil fuel power plants and extend the operating permission for 11 more.

"The fact that we now have to temporarily use some power plants that we have already taken out of operation because of Russia's brutal attack on Ukraine is bitter. But it is only for a very short time," Scholz said.

"We are just getting started now," he said, "and we want to do everything we can now to combat the climate crisis."

The chancellor said his government would take measures to ensure the expansion of renewable energies to help shape an industrial future without CO2 emissions by 2045.

"Germany is one of the most successful industrialized countries, and nowadays that means we also have a lot of CO2 emissions," Scholz said. "That's why we have to make a special effort, and we are making an effort."

Scholz said the goal was for Germany to be one of the first countries to be CO2-neutral and, at the same time, globally competitive.

Why use more coal and oil?

At present, Germany is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for power, particularly coal and gas, with almost 45% of electricity generated this way.

Germany has significantly reduced its energy imports from Russia in recent months as a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and is looking to source fossil fuels from other countries.

Scholz's government aims to end the purchase of Russian coal and oil this year, and of natural gas by 2024. 

Fears are mounting that Moscow will reduce the flow of natural gas to Europe in retaliation for sanctions and the West's support of Ukraine. There are concerns that supplies may stop sooner than anticipated.

The Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) has warned that a serious recession could be on the cards if Russian gas stops flowing to Germany. A shortage of gas supplies is expected as Germany heads towards winter in any case, and domestic customers will be prioritized over industry.

Both Scholz and Economic Affairs and Climate Action Minister Robert Habeck, have ruled out extending the operating life of Germany's three remaining nuclear plants beyond this year. 

Earlier this month, German lawmakers backed a package of reforms aimed at boosting the production of renewable power, although this will take time to have a marked effect.

The German gas disaster

rc/kb (AP, dpa)