Germany opened its first state-chartered liquefied natural gas vessel as Europe’s largest economy races to replace Russian gas amid an energy crunch and freezing temperatures.
“As of today, Germany and the EU will become a great deal more secure and independent,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a short speech Saturday in Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea coast to mark the inauguration.
Scholz said Russian President Vladimir Putin, in pursuing the invasion of Ukraine, calculated that he could pressure Germany and the rest of Europe by making energy a political weapon and cutting off gas supplies.
“He was wrong,” Scholz said. “We won’t be blackmailed.”
Opening the terminal marks a milestone in Germany’s efforts to become more energy independent from Russia. The project was accelerated with the help of a special law and realized in less than 200 days. That was remarkably fast by German standards; infrastructure projects often take years, if not decades, to finish due to lengthy approval procedures and frequent local opposition.
“This is now the new pace in Germany with which we’re pushing ahead with infrastructure,” Scholz said.
The launch also shows Germany plans to remain competitive in the international LNG market while remaining skeptical of the European-wide gas price cap being pursued by the European Commission. Scholz is worried LNG vessels could just aim for the highest bidder, leaving Europe with less supply.
On Monday, EU energy ministers are expected to conclude months of talks on the cap by agreeing on an exact threshold. Following an EU leaders summit in Brussels on Thursday, Scholz said he would prefer a cap set so high that it will “never be relevant.”
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Scholz said other EU member states should also benefit from Germany’s push into LNG. Berlin is ready to help its “European neighbors who have no coasts, but whose economies are very closely linked” to Germany, he said.
The vessel Hoegh Esperanza, a floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU), has enough LNG to supply 50,000 German households. With a second vessel set to start operations this winter in Brunsbuettel, along with three more state-chartered facilities and a private one in Lubmin, about a third of Germany’s gas demand could be fulfilled.
“More terminals will follow on the German North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts in the coming weeks and months — in Lubmin, Brunsbuettel and Stade,” Scholz said.
“By the end of next year we will probably have an import capacity of more than 30 billion cubic meters of gas. That alone corresponds to well over half of the total amount of gas that flowed through the pipelines from Russia to Germany last year,” he said.
Environmentalists have criticized Germany’s pursuit of LNG, which they say will only lock in the future use of fossil fuels.
The new terminal marks the “peak of ignorance” as the environmental impact assessment was basically waived during the expedited permitting process, Environmental Action Germany said at a press conference.
The group warned that the vessel may emit biocides into the Wadden Sea, a natural habitat listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.
—With assistance from Petra Sorge.