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ENERGY

Germany to thrash out details of €200 billion energy support package

Chancellor Olaf Scholz is meeting with Germany’s 16 state leaders on Tuesday to work out the details of the country’s energy relief packages and a cap on the price of gas. But a few questions remain open.

Cash on a radiator in Germany.
Cash on a radiator in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

What’s happening?

With power bills more than doubling in some cases, German federal and state leaders have decided more support is needed. Chancellor Scholz last week announced a €200 billion package to cushion the blow for people in Germany yet further.

One of the most expensive planned measures is a Gaspreisdeckel – or a cap on the price of gas households would pay this winter.

That comes on top of a combined €100 billion in relief spending over three spending packages already passed in the Bundestag. The last one, amounting to €65 billion, was passed only about a month ago.

Those packages are paying or have paid everything from the popular €9 nationwide public transport ticket, a VAT cut on gas bills, to one-off energy and cost of living relief payments.

But that wasn’t enough for many state leaders, who began calling for a gas price cap.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Everything Germany is doing to help relieve rising energy costs

These calls also come from across the German political spectrum.

Both Markus Söder, the Bavarian premier from the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) and Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey of the Social Democrats, have been particularly vocal in their support for a gas price cap.

Is a gas price cap coming?

Households in Germany are very likely to see a cap on their gas bills of some sort this winter.

What’s not clear yet – and what federal and state leaders are hammering out Tuesday – is how precisely it will work in practice, when it might come in, how long it will last, and how it’ll be paid for.

The SPD-led government of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and national Green co-leader Ricarda Lang want a gas price cap that would cover 80 percent of what households use.

German state leaders attend the conference on Wednesday.

German state leaders attend a conference. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

Under a plan like that, 80 percent would be termed a “basic consumption” requirement and capped in price for the average consumer. The other 20 percent would float according to the market rate for gas – to help encourage people to still save energy.

Söder’s Bavarian CSU has previously advocated for a 75/25 percent split between the capped portion and the floating portion to encourage more energy saving.

The government is then on the hook to pay the rest.

READ ALSO: Why did Germany make a U-turn on gas levy – and what do the new plans mean?

The cap is likely to last for the winter months at least, although this depends on Tuesday’s government talks, which also cover the thorny issue of how the government intends to pay for the cap.

The German Institute for Economic Research’s Marcel Fratzscher told broadcaster RTL and ntv last week that a cap alone could cost anywhere between €30 and €50 billion.

The Scholz government wants to pay for this primarily by running up government debt, something Finance Minister Christian Lindner has reservations about, as it would mean suspending Germany’s constitutional debt brake.

The federal state governments would be expected to pay for at least some of it, and any disputes Tuesday could hamper an agreement—potentially delaying the start of any cap or further relief measures.

A €9 ticket successor and relief for small businesses. What else do Germany’s states want?

Germany’s 16 federal state leaders are also bringing in a list of other measures they want to see from Scholz’s promised €200 billion in relief spending.

Chief among these is the unresolved question of how to pay for the planned successor to Germany’s popular €9 nationwide public transport ticket this summer.

Politicians are floating the idea of a more expensive €49 ticket, although the price could reach above €60, depending on how much money federal states are willing to kick in for it along with the federal government.

READ ALSO: Germany to set out plans for €49 transport ticket in October

North-Rhine Westphalia premier Hendrik Wüst is also calling for the federal government to make more money available for refugee housing, particularly as around 1 million Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Germany since the Russian invasion began in February.

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ENERGY

Is now a good time to switch energy providers in Germany?

The market prices for electricity and gas in Germany are cheaper now than they have been for a long time, leading some consumer advisors to recommend customers shop around for lower tariffs.

Is now a good time to switch energy providers in Germany?

Why are energy prices going down? 

Last year, energy prices in Germany rose to record heights following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But now, partly thanks to a milder winter than initially feared, market prices for gas and electricity have taken a downturn.

READ ALSO: ‘Over half’ of Germans heating homes less or not at all

So far, however, most consumers are yet to benefit from the lower prices, as they are still being supplied with the electricity and gas that suppliers bought at higher prices last year.

This is particularly the case with the so-called basic suppliers (Grundversorger) – the companies that supply most customers in a region (such as Vattenfall or GASAG) – as they tend to buy electricity and gas on a long-term basis, in some cases years in advance. 

Last year, this meant that the basic suppliers could still offer the lower prices of the past, but gradually, they have had to raise their tariffs. 

“As a result, they now have some catching up to do and are passing on the high procurement prices to customers,” Christina Wallraf, an energy expert at the consumer advice centre in North Rhine-Westphalia explained.

Who is offering low prices?

Gas and electricity prices from so-called alternative suppliers – energy companies other than the basic suppliers – are now falling across the board.

This is because such suppliers have a short-term procurement strategy, which means they can “pass on favourable market prices more quickly than the basic suppliers buy for longer periods”, Hans Weinreuter from the Rhineland-Palatinate consumer centre explained.

For new customers – energy shoppers who join a new provider – prices are considerably cheaper than they were a few months ago. 

A green plug in front of an electricity bill. Photo: picture alliance / Jens Kalaene/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa | Jens Kalaene

The current average price of a kilowatt hour of gas for new customers is currently around 14.3 cents – 64 percent less than the average at the beginning of September last year when it reached a peak of around 40 cents. 

Electricity prices for new customers have also dropped by around 24 percent since mid-October, when a kilowatt hour of electricity for new customers still cost an average of 56 cents, whereas the current price is 42.7 cents.

For basic suppliers, the prices have moved in the opposite direction. Since the beginning of September, basic gas supply prices rose on average from 12.7 to 17.7 cents per kWh, while the price of basic electricity supply rose by 27 percent – from 36.8 to 46.6 cents per kWh since mid-October.

When does it make sense to switch?

Numerous consumer advisors recommend those who are currently stuck in very expensive tariffs to look around for alternatives.

“That’s where a look at possible alternatives makes sense,” says Hans Weinreuter from the Rhineland-Palatinate Consumer Center.

Udo Sieverding, an energy expert at the consumer advice centre in North Rhine-Westphalia, told the Berliner Taggespiegel: “Anyone who wants to switch now has a good chance of finding a cheaper tariff.”

He added that there is no rush, however, and said that he considers “the risk of prices at discounters going up again in the next few months to be low”.

A man turns up the thermostat on a radiator.

A man turns up the thermostat on a radiator. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

However, Julia Schröder, an energy law expert at the Lower Saxony consumer advice centre, recommended that consumers should not take the decision to switch suppliers lightly, as this usually means being bound to a new provider for one or two years when “nobody can foresee” how prices will develop over the next 24 months. A change would therefore be worth it only if it resulted in substantial savings, she advised. 

However, Ingbert Liebing, CEO of the Association of Municipal Enterprises (VKU), recently criticised the appeals of experts to consumers to switch from basic suppliers to discounters with cheap tariffs.

READ ALSO: Energy prices could double long-term in Germany, utilities companies warn

“It was foreseeable that now again soldiers of fortune would enter the energy market and think they can make a quick deal, at the expense of the municipal utilities and basic suppliers,” he said of the lower tariffs currently on offer by alternative providers. 

He warned against cheap tariffs that lure customers in with low prices for a short period of time and then raise them again in a matter of months. 

Can I switch from a basic to a discount provider?

Theoretically, switching from a basic to an alternative energy provider should be straightforward. Unlike those in contracts with special tariffs, customers of basic suppliers generally have the legal right to cancel at any time with two weeks’ notice and look for another supplier.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to change electricity and gas providers in Germany

Those who are not with a basic supplier should look at their documents and check for how long their current gas supply contract is still valid. If there is a supplier with more favourable conditions, it may be worthwhile to terminate the contract. 

Oncoming price brakes

Another thing to bear in mind when considering whether to switch energy suppliers is the oncoming price brakes for gas and electricity. 

READ ALSO: 7 reasons to be optimistic about life in Germany in 2023

In the case of electricity, 80 percent of consumption will be capped at 40 cents per kilowatt hour from March, backdated to January. The same applies to gas: from March, backdated to January, natural gas customers will receive a state-guaranteed price of twelve cents per kilowatt hour for 80 percent of their previous annual consumption.

A person holds a wallet with cash.

A person holds a wallet with cash. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Despite the price brakes, it can still be worth switching if the contractually agreed energy price with your current supplier is over 40 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity and over twelve cents per kilowatt hour for gas.

That’s largely because the price brakes for electricity and gas are currently limited to just one year.

“If the price brakes are not extended, every kilowatt hour consumed will cost the regular contract price again next year. This is another reason why it will be important for consumers to choose the cheapest possible tariff this year,” said Thorsten Storck from Verivox.

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