BERLIN — Germany will “probably” extend the operating life of two of its three remaining nuclear power plants until April, Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Tuesday, blaming energy supply problems in France for the move. .
He also announced more money for struggling German energy suppliers, which could force Finance Minister Christian Lindner to suspend the country’s constitutional debt brake for another year. Linder, along with the Free Democratic Liberals, lobbied to extend the life of the remaining German reactors.
Germany’s energy emergency is forcing Habeck to reconsider a key tenet of his Green Party. The original plan was to shut down Germany’s three remaining reactors by the end of the year, but earlier this month it opened the door for two of them – Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim – to be activated in case of emergency.
But with 31 of France’s 56 nuclear reactors out of service, Germany cannot expect to buy the electricity it usually receives from France this winter. Habeck said: “If this development is not reversed, we will leave Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim connected to the network in the first quarter of 2023.”
A final decision will be made in December at the latest.
Habeck said a recent EDF stress test in France indicated the country would produce just 45 gigawatts of power this winter instead of the expected 50 GW, and that could drop to 40 GW in February, qualifying the forecast earlier French reports of “too optimistic”.
The decision to shut down the reactors is increasingly controversial at a time when electricity prices are soaring thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The political opposition, as well as Lindner’s FDP, want nuclear power to be online until at least 2024.
Money for public services
Habeck also said Berlin would bail out struggling energy suppliers squeezed by Russia cutting off gas supplies to Germany. He suggested the bailout would now be funded by the state instead of overcharging the gas price on consumers as previously planned.
“I have taken note of the fact that there are now seemingly alternative financing options that did not exist three months ago or have not yet been found,” he said. “If the money is now available…then that route should also be taken.”
For that to happen, Lindner would have to free up public funds and most likely abandon his long-held goal of reintroducing Germany’s debt brake by next year. The brake limits the government’s ability to issue new debt, but has been suspended for three years due to the coronavirus crisis and the war in Ukraine.
In a recent POLITICO interview, Lindner said he would only be willing to ignore the return of the debt brake for another year if there was a “sudden catastrophic challenge” this winter.
However, a spokesperson for Lindner said on Tuesday evening that “there is no agreement to lift the debt brake for the 2023 draft budget”, adding that the idea “is not to discuss”.
This leaves open the question of how state aid could be financed. Theoretically, the German government could create a special fund that does not fall under debt rules, which it did earlier this year with a €100 billion military modernization program. However, repeating such fiscal manipulation would be a drastic step.
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