German lawmakers approved a measure on Thursday that will allow the government to throw a lifeline to companies struggling with the record-high price of gas and with cuts in supplies from Russia.
The law, passed in the lower house of Parliament, is part of a wider package that aims to help Germany maintain the security of its natural gas supply as it faces shortages connected to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Last month, Russia cut the amount of gas delivered to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, a major conduit, by 60 percent.
The pipeline, which runs along the floor of the Baltic Sea and links Russian gas fields to the northern German coast, is scheduled to go offline for 10 days of routine maintenance starting Monday. Energy experts and politicians fear that Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, may keep it offline at the end of that maintenance period to retaliate against the economic sanctions that Europe has enacted to punish Moscow for invading Ukraine.
Uniper, an electricity producer and Germany’s largest importer of Russian natural gas, is likely to become the first business to be bailed out under the new law after it asked the government for help last month. The company, based in Düsseldorf, has been forced to buy gas at significantly higher prices to fulfill its longstanding contracts with some 100 municipalities across the country.
The newly passed legislation, which is expected to receive final approval from the upper house before Parliament begins its summer recess, will allow utilities to restart coal-fired power plants that either have been shuttered or are scheduled for closure. The Netherlands and Austria have taken similar measures.
The legislation will also allow suppliers to pass price increases on to consumers if authorities determine that a “significant reduction in total gas import volumes to Germany is imminent.” Politicians have so far sought to protect consumers in hopes of avoiding public protests.
“Social peace in Germany is being challenged and stressed,” Robert Habeck, the country’s energy minister, said Thursday.
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