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Green minister scrambles on energy amid Ukraine conflict

February 28, 2022

Economy Minister Robert Habeck has pushed forward the timetable for Germany's fossil fuel exit and paved the way for the country's first national gas reserve in order to wean the country off of Russian gas.

Deutschland I Ukraine-Konflikt - Statement Habeck
Robert Habeck holds the newly created post of economy and enviromental protection ministerImage: Annette Riedl/dpa/picture alliance

Germany's environment and economy minister, Robert Habeck, found himself on Monday in a rush to offer new proposals to counter the country's reliance on Russian gas following the invasion of Ukraine.

Habeck, who is also vice-chancellor and a member of the Green party, was involved in discussions that ranged from ramping up reliance on renewable energy faster than planned to creating Germany's first gas reserve.

He also held crisis talks with fellow European Union ministers in charge of energy policy, and announced a last-minute trip to the United States, which has pivoted to self-produced shale oil and gas in recent years to reduce dependence on fuel from the Middle East.

Renewables timeline pushed forward

Germany uses gas to heat about half of the households in the country, and Russian gas specifically accounts for about half of German energy imports

Now that Chancellor Olaf Scholz has blocked the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, Habeck suggests speeding up plans to rely entirely on renewables, particulary as the country has already begun its exit from nuclear energy and coal.

Germany suspends Nord Stream 2 pipeline

"We need to admit that in the past we have been too reliant on Russian imports," Habeck told journalists ahead of the ministers meeting in Brussels. "In the medium and long term, we are going to significantly reduce the consumption of fossil fuels."

To that end, Habeck's ministry plans to speed up the passage of the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) through parliament so that it can come into force by July 1.

The new law would be a major boost to solar and wind power in Germany, such that 80% of Germany's energy would come from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% by 2035.

In the same press conference, Habeck rejected suggestions that Germany keep its remaining three nuclear power plants online, saying that they were too far into the phase-out stage to be brought back.

Energy and fuel prices had been steadily climbing in Germany even prior to the outbreak of war in Ukraine, with German motorists' club the ADAC announcing a new record high aggregate price at the country's petrol pumps on Monday, of €1.81 ($2.03) per liter of standard unleaded and €1.79 for a liter of diesel.

Ukraine to be brought onto European grid

At the EU meeting, Habeck and his counterparts discussed possible solutions to the bloc's reliance on Russian gas. He also supported a request from Ukraine to be brought onto western Europe's power grid so it could cut itself off from Russia's completely. 

The vice-chancellor warned that this move should be done "quickly" to prevent "cyber-attacks and black outs" as a tool of war.

The economy minister suggested a further possible solution on Monday, paving the way for the creation of a national gas reserve. Currently, Germany has an oil reserve but not one for the gas needed for heating and industry.

This, Habeck argued, would ensure that Germany had enough gas for the whole of the winter and would make fluctuations in prices brought on by world events less of a burden to consumers.

After Brussels, Habeck will travel on to Washington on Tuesday. He is set to meet with several members of President Joe Biden's cabinet, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and trade envoy Katherine Tai.

Talks are expected to focus on security in Ukraine and energy independence.

es/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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