Germany braces for ‘nightmare’ of Russia turning off gas for good | Germany

Germany is bracing itself for a potentially permanent halt to the flow of Russian gas from Monday when maintenance work begins on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that brings the fuel to Europe’s largest economy via the Baltic Sea.

The work on the 759-mile (1,220km) pipeline is an annual event and requires the gas taps to be closed for 10 to 14 days. But never before in the pipeline’s decade-long history has Germany seriously been asking whether the flow will begin again.

Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister, has not shied away from addressing the government’s concerns. On Saturday, he spoke of the “nightmare scenario” that could occur.

“Everything is possible, everything can happen,” Habeck told the broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. “It could be that the gas flows again, maybe more than before. It can also be the case that nothing comes.

“We need to honestly prepare for the worst-case scenario and do our best to try to deal with the situation.”

Contingency plans are rapidly being drawn up across Germany, where there are genuine concerns that Moscow may use the opportunity to further weaponise gas as a lever against the west in its war with Ukraine and permanently turn off supplies.

Russian gas is vital to the running of Germany’s economy as well as keeping the majority of homes warm. Flows through the pipeline have been reduced in recent months and are at about 40% of the usual levels. Russia has blamed sanctions for the reduced flow, arguing they have hindered its access to spare parts.

On Saturday, Canada said after consultation with Germany and the International Energy Agency that it would issue a temporary exemption to sanctions against Russia in order to allow the return from Montreal of a repaired Russian turbine that is required for the maintenance work to be carried out.

On Friday, the Kremlin said it would increase gas supplies to Europe once the turbine was returned to Russia. Ukraine has objected to this, arguing it helps continue the continent’s dependency on Russian gas.

But Canada’s natural resources minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, said the permission is “time-limited” and will help “Europe’s ability to access reliable and affordable energy as they continue to transition away from Russian oil and gas”.

Since the start of the war in February, Germany has been working to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, including through the construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) ports.

On Friday, emergency legislation completed its passage through both houses of parliament to allow the reactivation of mothballed coal power plants, despite their carbon intensity.

But the overall withdrawal process has been complex and slow.

The short-term goal is to attempt to replenish stocks in Germany’s gas storage facilities to last the winter. The most recent reading, released by the Federal Network Agency on Friday, showed storage facilities to be at 63% capacity. The goal is 90% by 1 November.

The longer-term target is to lessen dependency on gas by increasing the generation of renewable energy, in part by redefining the sectors as being of vital importance to national security.

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German industry and households consume about two-thirds of the country’s gas supplies.

Plans are already in place to prioritise who would have access to gas in case of a cut. Hospitals and emergency services top the list, while households are ranked above most industrial concerns.

But on a more local level, as authorities battle with rising energy costs and the challenge of how to cope if households are left in the cold this winter, contingency plans are in place involving everything from shutting swimming pools, turning off street lamps and traffic lights, and housing citizens in industrial-scale dormitories. Not long ago destined for coronavirus patients, the makeshift containers have been described as “warm rooms” or “warmth islands”.

Meanwhile, demand for everything that heats without gas is at an unprecedented high, including electric and oil heaters, infrared panels and convectors, as well as basic camping stoves.

Installers of wood-burning ovens and heat pumps report long waiting lists and cite a chronic lack of parts, as well as a shortage of qualified personnel.

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