Dutch coal-fired power stations can immediately run at full capacity again to provide households and companies with electricity. The government hopes to use the gas saved as a result to supplement the gas stocks for next winter.
According to Minister Rob Jetten (D66, Climate and Energy), the risk of a gas shortage in the winter is increasing now that Russian President Putin is “increasingly using gas as a means of power” and Russia is supplying Europe with much less gas than has been agreed. Last week, deliveries to Germany, Italy and Austria were significantly reduced.
Jetten announced Monday that it would withdraw the law that now limits the production of coal-fired power stations. The power stations were allowed to use only 35 percent of their capacity from the beginning of this year until 2024. This intervention was intended to prevent the cabinet from again failing to meet the Urgenda standard for the emission of greenhouse gas CO2 (25 percent reduction compared to 1990).
On Sunday, German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) announced emergency measures. The German government also wants to make more use of coal-fired power stations. Germany is highly dependent on gas from Russia.
Jetten emphasized that there is no acute shortage of gas in the Netherlands. Yet the cabinet also announced “the first level of a gas crisis” on Monday. This means that the emergency plan ‘Gas Protection and Recovery Plan’ comes into effect. According to Jetten, this first of a total of three crisis levels gives the cabinet the opportunity to ‘monitor the gas market more closely’. Gas companies now have to provide information on gas deliveries and gas stocks on a daily basis.
On Monday, Jetten also made an urgent appeal to companies and households to save as much energy as possible. “Every cubic meter of gas counts,” said the minister. Taking shorter showers, not turning on the air conditioning and insulating are also ways to save energy this summer, says Jetten.
The government wants to tempt large consumers of gas, such as industry, to reduce their gas consumption by offering them compensation. In the emergency plan, large consumers can be closed if there are acute gas shortages. “By helping them to become more sustainable now, we can keep the social impact as small as possible,” said Jetten. He could not say how much the scheme, yet to be worked out, will cost.
The cabinet has previously earmarked billions of euros to encourage companies to replenish gas stocks. On Monday, Jetten could not say how much that subsidy ultimately costs, but he was “very satisfied” with the progress. The various gas fields are now 47 to 55 percent filled, “considerably more than the same period last year”.
State Secretary Hans Vijlbrief (D66, Mining) repeated on Monday that the gas field in Groningen will be lit in October. The field should be able to close in 2023. Extra gas extraction in Groningen is only an option “if a safety situation arises that is so serious that you can weigh it against the safety of the people of Groningen,” Vijlbrief said in NRC on Monday. For example, if hospitals can no longer be heated or households can no longer cook.
Additional climate policy
It is a painful decision for Jetten to have the coal-fired power stations running again. As party leader of D66 in the House of Representatives, he was a strong supporter of closure in order to reduce CO2 emissions. “In such an acute situation with a war in Europe, you have to take measures that you never thought possible before,” Jetten said on Monday. He pointed out that coal production in the Netherlands will no longer be permitted from 2030.
Members of parliament from coalition parties VVD and CDA previously found the activation of the coal-fired power stations to be well defensible. Coalition parties D66 and ChristenUnie first wanted to focus on saving energy. However, more coal power was not a taboo for the ChristenUnie either.
On Budget Day, Jetten wants to come up with additional measures that compensate for the extra emissions from the coal-fired power stations elsewhere. The government’s climate target, to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030, must still be achieved in this way. “I owe that to future generations.”
If the coal-fired power stations are fully operational again, this could save 2 billion cubic meters of gas in the gas-fired power stations, but it is not yet possible to say whether the power stations will be fully switched on again, according to Jetten. The coal-fired power stations received compensation for limiting their production. In total, this could cost the government 1.9 billion euros over a three-year period. That compensation now ends. Jetten will calculate how much money this will save in the near future.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of June 21, 2022