Europe suffers fuel prices soar as Russia cuts natural gas supply

BERLIN — Jörg Mertens knew that the stalemate between the West and Russia had sent energy prices skyrocketing across Europe. But his August bill left him cringing.

His energy tab was up 70%.

“Excuse me,” said a 60-year-old Munich man, raising his voice. In the worst German inflation since the 1970s, electricity and utilities went from $112 to about $190 a month after rent hikes, leaving us paying $366 a month for food, medicine and transportation.

“I would have to buy less food,” said Mertens, who has spinal disease and survives on a fixed initial pension.

Across Europe, the weaponization of natural gas exports by Russian President Vladimir Putin — Europeans withholding shipments to punish Western countries for imposing sanctions on Russia — is one of the richest countries on the planet. Dropping bombs on consumers. In the hardest-hit countries, including Germany, the UK, Italy and the Netherlands, rate payers are down year-on-year despite government officials and analysts warning of possible winter rations and blackouts. It has seen a surge of 210%. .

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In Britain, economically distressed residents are abandoning their pets, while schools warn that rising energy costs mean they can’t afford new textbooks. In Poland, authorities are considering distributing anti-smog masks as Poles consider burning garbage for heating in winter. In Germany, residents of former West Berlin dust off coal- and wood-burning ovens that once served as insurance against Russians who targeted their energy supply during the Cold War.

Several European countries are suffering from shortages and high prices of last resort firewood. Seeing an opportunity, thieves are stealing logs from truck beds. Scammers have set up fake websites and pose as timber sellers to dupe desperate consumers. In some countries, wood-burning ovens and stoves have almost completely sold out.

“Firewood is the new gold,” said Franz Lüninghake, 62, a system administrator in Bremen, Germany. His estimated utility bill next year is $4,500 — up from his $1,500 in his 12 months through May.

Berlin chimney sweep Norbert Skrobek is a qualified technician who wears a vintage uniform to inspect and consult wood and coal-burning furnaces. He fears that locals are flocking to buy portable heaters, and if improperly installed or used, they can cause dangerous carbon monoxide leaks.

“I’m sure we’ll have to carry some people out horizontally this winter,” he said.

european countries are scrambling reduce consumption, pledges hundreds of billions of euros worth of financial aid to consumers and businesses while filling Russia’s natural gas reserves and procuring replacements. To stem the economic losses, the German government is even moving to add hundreds of thousands of people to the housing welfare roll.

But these measures are unlikely to fully offset the much higher costs, with analysts warning of rising poverty, a devastating middle class, rising government debt and growing negative environmental impacts. .

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Cuts in shipments of Russian natural gas, which is used to power grids and heat homes in much of Europe, are the biggest driver of prices. But other setbacks, such as the planned shutdown of a French nuclear power plant to repair corrosion, have made things worse. French authorities have warned the public to prepare for possible rolling blackouts planned for later this year. To save energy, eiffel tower — Towering lanterns that normally illuminate the City of Light until 1:00 a.m. — must be extinguished by 11:45 p.m.

From Naples to Nuremberg, Germany, consumers are shocked by opening their electricity bills.

“Putin has been all out, so every time Russia’s gas supplies have been cut, prices have jumped,” Klaus Müller, the head of Germany’s energy regulator, told The Washington Post. is the price of this war.”

Europeans are already funding the transition to renewable energy sources through taxes and tariffs on their electricity bills, paying more on average than Americans. Now that gap is widening. As winter approaches, economic woes could test the continent’s resolve on sanctions to punish Russia for invading Ukraine.

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High prices have become a key issue for European political parties known for their close ties to Russia, questioning the wisdom of sanctions against inflation-fed nations. The leader of Italy’s right-wing political party League, part of a coalition that hopes to win this month’s national elections, has suggested that Italians are paying too high a price. The pro-Russian far-right in Germany is mobilizing “Winter of Fury” to call on tariff payers to oppose disastrous energy costs.

“The enemies of democracy are exploiting the crisis to spread apocalyptic fantasies, fears and uncertainties,” German Interior Minister Nancy Feser told the Reinisch Post last week. “It would be irresponsible to scare people who have been hit particularly hard by the price hike.”

European consumers are desperate for an unpredictable winter.

in England, According to a recent survey, nearly 1 in 4 people are planning to beat the heat this winter. The country does not depend on Russia for natural gas, unlike some of its European neighbors, accounting for less than 4% of her supply. But its energy market has been disrupted by high prices caused by supply shortages elsewhere. In her year to July, gas prices in the country rose 96% he and electricity bills rose 54% her.

In her first major announcement as head of government, Prime Minister Liz Truss said last week that consumer energy bills would be frozen for two years. According to the government, a typical household only pays $2,885 a year, saving more than $1,000 a year from commercial bills.

Ed Trewitt, 55, owner of Brickyard Bakery in Guisborough, England, said it wasn’t enough to save his business. will be forced to close next year, he said. The cost of running his bread oven has doubled for him in the last year, to $2,300 a month. The surge comes on top of sharp inflation in the UK, which is at its highest level in 40 years.

“Energy prices are devastating, but that’s all. The cost of my flour alone went up 80% last year,” says Trewhitt. “It’s not sustainable.”

Even when heat waves hit Europe this summer, panicked buyers began stocking up on firewood for weeks in advance, sending prices skyrocketing.

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In the rural Hungarian village of Hague, two hours southwest of Budapest, the price of firewood, which is used almost exclusively as a fuel in winter, has nearly doubled, according to Nicoletta Kelemen. A 35-year-old non-governmental organization official said that just setting one tree on fire costs about half the village’s average monthly income of $249.

“I think we’re going to burn the furniture,” Kelemen said.

Timber theft in the forests around Stuttgart, Germany, is on the rise, says Count Goetzbulow von Dennewitz, who oversees forest management in the area.

“They drive trailers and tractors, loading trucks and cranes, they have specialized equipment, they see things together and they haul them out,” he said.

Officials warn that burning wood is not environmentally friendly due to illegal logging and emissions from old ovens. But many here feel increasingly as if they have few options.

On the last day of August, Russia closed the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, the main link for gas to Germany, claiming it was in need of maintenance. Earlier this month, Putin blamed Western sanctions for the delay and threatened to completely cut off energy supplies if the West carried out its pledge to impose price caps on Russia’s energy exports.

“We will not supply gas, oil, coal, kerosene. We will not supply anything,” Putin said at an economic forum in Vladivostok, Russia.

Germany, slouched toward recession, is filling gas reserves ahead of schedule. However, bitterly cold winters can still pose difficulties. If the government imposes rationing, it will prioritize citizens over industry, officials say.

The German government this month rolled out a €65 billion aid package to help needy households.

But analysts say the package could bring limited help to millions of people. is needed. According to poverty researcher Christoph Butterwegge, for many people, a one-off check won’t fully cover the price increase.

He expects many German households to pay 20-30% of their income on energy by winter, pushing up energy poverty rates.

“There will be poor people facing the choice of starving or freezing,” Butterwegge said.

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Mertens is expected to receive about $300 from the new package in December, but not enough to offset the additional energy costs of $390 he will pay by then. Unless prices drop or the government intervenes again, we’ll be charged at least $78 a month extra from January. Moreover, if the price increases further.

That’s the money he doesn’t have. Wealthier families may fare well, but he lives at the limit where every euro matters. I will return to

“Such an idea,” he said. “They’ll hit you like a heat wave, and they’ll torture you for air.”

On a recent morning in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, 41-year-old scientist Vinzenz Schönfelder watched Skrobek inspect his old white-and-gold furnace. Built in the 1880s and unused for decades, this wood-burning oven is a Schönfelder alternative should Germany run out of heating gas this winter.

“Our biggest fear is the unstable power supply,” he said.

He said it reminded him of growing up in East Germany. “The last time I experienced this was [uncertainty] I was a kid in the 80’s. ”

He is outraged by what he describes as the Germans being again caught in the middle of the struggle between Washington and Moscow.

Sanctions “have not ended the war and have not materially weakened Russia,” he said. “At the same time, they did a lot of damage to Germany.”

On the other hand, he said, “Americans are taking it easy.”

Adam reports from London. Meg Kelly of Berlin contributed to this report.

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