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ENERGY

Should tenants in Germany be shielded from energy price hikes?

Gas prices have more than tripled in the past year, prompting tenants' rights advocates to call for more social support and a cap on energy costs.

Hamburg rents rally
A sign with the words "Affordable living space for all" at a Hamburg rally. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

The German’s Tenants’ Association is calling on the government to put together a new energy relief package to help renters deal with spiralling energy costs.

Gas has become an increasing scarce resource in Germany, with the Economics Ministry raising the alert level recently after Russia docked supplies by 60 percent.

The continued supply issues have caused prices to skyrocket. According to the German import prices published on Thursday, natural gas was three times as expensive in May 2022 as it was in May a year ago.

In light of the exploding prices, the German Tenants’ Association is putting the government under pressure to offer greater relief for renters.

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Proposals on the table include a moratorium on terminating tenancy agreements and a permanent heating cost subsidy for all low-income households.

The Tenants’ Association has argued that nobody should face eviction for being unable to cope with soaring bills and is urging the government to adjust housing benefits in line with the higher prices. 

Gas price cap

Renters’ advocates have also joined a chorus of people advocating for a cap on consumer gas prices to prevent costs from rising indefinitely.

Recently, Frank Bsirske, a member of the parliamentary Green Party and former head of the trade union Verdi, spoke out in favour of capping prices. Bavaria’s economics minister and Lower Saxony’s energy minister have also advocated for a gas price cap in the past. 

According to the tenants’ association, the vast majority of tenants use gas for heating and are directly affected by recent price increases.

At the G7 summit in Bavaria this week, leaders of the developed nations discussed plans for a coordinated cut in oil prices to prevent Russia from reaping the rewards of the energy crisis. 

In an initiative spearheaded by the US, the group of rich nations agreed to task ministers will developing a proposal that would see consumer countries refusing to pay more than a set price for oil imports from Russia.

READ ALSO: Germany and G7 to ‘develop a price cap’ on Russian oil

A gas price cap would likely be carried out on a more national level, with the government regulating how much of their costs energy companies can pass onto consumers. 

Strict contract laws preventing sudden price hikes mean that tenants in Germany are unlikely to feel the full force of the rising gas prices this year

However, the Tenant’s Association pointed out that, if there is a significant reduction in gas imports, the Federal Network Agency could activate an emergency clause known as the price adjustment clause.

This would allow gas suppliers to pass on higher prices to their customers at short notice. 

The Tenants’ Association has warned that the consequences of an immediate market price adjustment, if it happens, should be legally regulated and socially cushioned.

In the case of the price adjustment clause being activated, the government would have to regulate the costs that companies were allowed to pass onto consumers to prevent social upheaval. 

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ENERGY

German government pledges to subsidise rising electricity bills

For most electricity customers in Germany, grid fees are set to rise next year. But the government plans to inject €13 billion to ease the burden on consumers.

German government pledges to subsidise rising electricity bills

The four major transmission system operators (TSOs) said the price of grid fees would be set at an average of 3.12 cents per kilowatt hour next year, slightly higher than the current average of 3.08 cents/kWh. For the first time, the cost will be at the same level across Germany.

Grid fees form part of the electricity bills paid by consumers, along with other taxes and production costs. The charges make up about 10 percent of private customer bills. 

Those who live in the area of the network operator Tennet, which supplies Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and parts of Hesse and Bavaria, can, however, expect a slight decrease in the network fee.

In the rest of the country, grid fees currently stand somewhere between 2.94 and 3.04 cents per kWh. The four TSOs – 50Hertz, Amprion, Transnet BW and Tennet – said the price increases were due to the higher costs needed for procuring energy, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

READ ALSO: Why electric fan heaters could make energy crisis worse

The cost for transmission networks has more than tripled from €5 billion to €18 billion.

To ensure that grid fees for customers do not also more than triple, the German government has pledged to give a subsidy of €13 billion.

“We are now making sure that these cost increases are absorbed, thereby preventing an additional burden for industrial companies, small and medium-sized businesses and consumers,” said German Economic and Climate Minister Robert Habeck. “We will use almost €13 billion to keep costs down.”

He said this would be carried out in connection with the planned electricity price cap.

READ ALSO: Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

The coalition government, made up of the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, is planning to dampen grid fees in the medium term by skimming off high windfall profits from electricity producers to fund a price cap. 

The money for the subsidy will also be covered by Germany’s Renewable Energy Act (EEG) funding. Electricity customers in Germany had to pay an EEG levy, aimed at boosting renewable energy, up until it was dropped earlier this year due to spiralling prices. 

The German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) called on the coalition to take action quickly and introduce subsidies.

“It is right that a state subsidy is planned for this exceptional situation,” said Kerstin Andreae of BDEW.

The significantly higher costs would otherwise lead to increased network fees that customers would have to pay, Andreae said. 

READ ALSO: German households see record hikes in heating costs 

Vocabulary 

Network fees/charges – (die) Netzentgelte

Electricity price – (der) Strompreis

Consumers – (die) Verbraucher

To increase/rise – steigen

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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