Winter Has Come: Europe’s Energy Mess | National Review

Winter Has Come: Europe’s Energy Mess | National Review

Tthe Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project logo on a pipe at the Chelyabinsk pipe rolling plant in Chelyabinsk, Russia, February 26, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Angela Merkel has got out of Dodge just in time. Europe’s energy crunch has been building for some time, and now two key aspects of the former German chancellor’s dismal legacy — the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and her decision to reaccelerate the denuclearization of Germany’s energy supply — are likely to have the country caught in a vise.


A regulatory decision allowing natural gas flows to Europe via Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline won’t be made before July, Germany’s federal network agency said.

The regulator, also known as Bundesnetzagentur, halted the certification process in mid-November and asked the Swiss-based operator of the pipeline — which is owned by Russia’s Gazprom PJSC — to set up a German subsidiary to comply with European regulations.

The agency will resume the certification as soon as the necessary criteria are met, its president, Jochen Homann, said Thursday at a news conference. “A decision won’t be made in the first half of 2022,” he said.

This will not delight Vladimir Putin and will give him an additional reason (on top of attempting to bully them into accepting what he has in mind for Ukraine) to remind Germany and other European nations of the leverage that he has been handed by Europe’s acceptance of such a heavy dependency on Russian gas.

Meanwhile, via Reuters:

Russian natural gas deliveries to Germany through the Yamal-Europe pipeline dropped sharply on Saturday, data from German network operator Gascade showed, adding pressure to an already tight European gas market as it heads into peak winter demand.

It was not immediately clear why flows were down through the pipeline, one of the major routes for Russian gas exports to Europe and which traverses Belarus. Russian gas exporter Gazprom did not immediately reply to a request for comment…

It’s a mystery, I tell you.

Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports:

Germany will shut down three nuclear plants forever next week, slashing clean and reliable baseload power in the middle of winter and during the worst energy crisis in Europe since the Second World War.

The three reactors generate 4.2 gigawatts of zero-carbon electricity between them.  They are relatively young. Gundremmingen and Grohnde were both commissioned in 1984. Brokdorf in Schleswig-Holstein was state-of-the-art when it was opened in 1986. They could have continued for another twenty-five years or so until Germany’s green infrastructure was in place.

Olaf Scholz’s coalition government is going ahead with this long-planned closure despite pleas for a stay of execution from a chorus of global climate campaigners, including Bill Gates and Jim Hansen, the NASA scientist who first alerted Washington to global warming. Another three reactors will go at the end of 2022 . . .

All the fateful consequences of Angela Merkel’s decision to wind down Germany’s nuclear fleet after Fukushima in 2011 are before our eyes: strategic paralysis as Russia attempts overthrow the post Cold War settlement; extended reliance on the dirtiest lignite coal at home; exorbitant energy prices; and the looming threat of blackouts this winter (industrial brown-outs have already begun) . . .

Rainer Klute, from the German pro-fission group Nuklearia, said there is no technical reason why the three plants cannot be kept running this winter as an emergency measure to mitigate a near certain crisis.

“There are staff shortages and it is too late to get fresh fuel but these problems can be mitigated. We are told by workers at the plants that it is possible to run them on spent fuel, even if that means less power,” he said.

“But you would have to change the nuclear law and nobody wants to do that. The decision is written in stone, even though the majority of Germans are again in favour of nuclear power,” he said.

Merkel’s decision on nuclear energy was a mixture of the cowardice, cynical political calculation, and a failure to take a longer strategic view that were all characteristics of her time in office, but as Evans-Pritchard makes clear, the fault for the current mess is not hers alone:

Yet it is the whole political establishment of Western Europe that is responsible for laying the Continent at Mr Putin’s feet, and for wishful thinking on gas storage. Depleted inventories never recovered fully over the summer, both because Gazprom was holding back top-up flows, and because East Asia was gobbling up the world’s supply of liquefied natural gas.

China saw the danger and gave an order to secure LNG at any price as a matter of regime survival. Europe did not. Its inventories are now critically low.

German storage is at 57pc of capacity, compared to 78pc at this juncture in the last pre-pandemic year of 2019. Dutch storage is at 41pc, and Austria is down to 37pc, levels not normally seen until a full month deeper into the winter . . .

[Europe’s] political class faces the invidious choice of keeping households warm or diverting scarce supplies to energy-intensive companies with subsidies to match. One or other must give.

The UK is of course in the same boat since it has subcontracted its storage to the EU to save a few pennies, which has in turn subcontracted the task to the Kremlin, via Gazprom-controlled sites on EU territory. The British do at least produce half their own gas from the North Sea and have a strategic relationship with Qatar – valuable when the chips are down – but all fates are linked by cross-Channel interconnectors.

The prospect of countries hoarding their own supplies is, as Evans-Pritchard, observes, not small.

Evans-Pritchard is an enthusiastic supporter of much of the current approach to decarbonization and perhaps for that reason does not include much discussion over the role that climate policy — not least, incidentally, the U.K.’s headlong, extravagant, and reckless rush into renewables — has played in setting the stage for this mess. To be sure, the principal drivers on this occasion are elsewhere, but the influence of poorly thought-through climate policy has not been helpful, and that unhelpfulness is only going to grow.

An interesting few months lie ahead.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.