Germany plans to order coal-fired power plants that were due to be shut down to be placed in reserve, as part of a plan to ensure the country can keep the lights on if supplies of natural gas from Russia are abruptly cut.
A bill drawn up this week by the economy ministry, led by Robert Habeck, a member of the Greens, envisions maintaining power plants that burn coal and brown coal, or lignite, so they could by fired up on short notice.
The proposed regulation, if adopted, would remain in place through March 31, 2024.
“This means that the short-term use of coal-fired plants in the electricity sector is made possible on demand, should the need arise,” it states. The measure still requires approval by the cabinet of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Natural gas, much of it from Russia, accounted for 15 percent of Germany’s electricity generation in 2021, the ministry said, although it expected that number to be lower this year because of the rising cost of gas and turmoil caused by the war in Ukraine.
Germany has counted on affordable, abundant supplies of natural gas from Russia as a replacement for coal as it seeks to meet its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent of 1990s levels by 2030. But since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Berlin has scrambled to reverse decades of policy focused on importing fossil fuel from Russia.
Earlier this month, the German Parliament passed legislation paving the way for the construction of four terminals to receive liquefied natural gas on its northern coast, including two floating terminals that are expected to be ready by the end of the year.
Germany has reduced the share of natural gas it receives from Russia to 35 percent, down from 55 percent at the start of the year. Most of the Russian gas flows through the Nord Stream pipeline that runs under the Baltic Sea.
The International Monetary Fund warned in its annual report on Germany this week that a cut in natural gas from Russia was the largest threat to the German economy, which is Europe’s largest.
Germany decided under its previous government in 2020 that it would spend $44.5 billion to quit coal by 2038. The new government, which took over in December, has moved the exit date up to 2030 and emphasized the expansion of renewable energy for power generation.
Efforts to build more wind turbines and solar farms stalled under the previous government. Last year, amid high gas prices, coal-generated power rose nearly 5 percent, accounting for roughly 30 percent of Germany’s electricity production.