Coal stoves and wood thieves: Europe braces for winter without Russian gas

BERLIN — Jörg Mertens knew that the West’s standoff with Russia had pushed up energy prices across Europe. But his August bills surprised him.

His energy tab had increased by 70%.

“I’m afraid,” said the 60-year-old man from Munich, his voice breaking. After rent, the increased costs – about $190 a month for electricity and heat, compared with $112 previously – have left her with food, medicine and transit during Germany’s worst period of inflation since the 1970s. $366 per month will remain.

“I’ll have to buy less food, said Mertens, who suffers from spinal disease and survives on a fixed early pension. “In the winter, how am I going to pay the rent?”

Across Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s weaponization of natural gas exports — halting shipments, Europeans say, to punish the West for imposing sanctions on Russia — is dropping bombs on consumers in some of the richest countries on earth. . The countries hardest hit – including Germany, the UK, Italy and the Netherlands – have seen ratepayers slapped with year-on-year increases of up to 210 per cent, even as officials and analysts Warns of possible winter rations and blackouts. .

Letters that demoralized Russian soldiers as they fled.

In Britain, cash-strapped residents are abandoning pets while schools warn that rising energy costs mean they can no longer afford new textbooks. In Poland, authorities are weighing the distribution of anti-smog masks as Poles consider burning garbage for winter heat. In Germany, residents of old West Berlin are washing coal and wood-burning ovens that once served as insurance against Russians targeting energy supplies during the Cold War.

Many European countries are suffering from shortages and rising prices of the fuel of last resort: wood. Thieves, seizing an opportunity, are stealing logs from truck beds. Fraudsters are setting up fake websites, masquerading as timber sellers to harass frustrated customers. In many countries, wood-burning ovens and furnaces have almost completely sold out.

“Firewood is the new gold,” said Franz Luningheck, 62, a system administrator in Bremen, Germany, who has a wood-burning furnace on backorder. His estimated energy bill for next year? $4,500 — by May. Over $1,500 for 12 months.

Norbert Schrobeck, a Berlin chimney sweep — a licensed technician who wears a vintage uniform to inspect and consult on wood- and coal-burning furnaces — said he’s seen an increase in demand as older Berlin heaters are restored. Renovate and install new ones. A stampede of locals buying portable heaters, he fears, can cause dangerous carbon monoxide emissions if installed or used incorrectly.

“I’m sure we’re going to have to move some people out horizontally this winter,” he said.

European nations Are worried about Reduce consumptionFill Russian natural gas reserves and switch sources, all while promising hundreds of billions of euros worth of financial aid to consumers and businesses. To stem the economic bleeding, the German government is even moving to add millions of people to the housing welfare rolls.

But the measures are unlikely to offset the huge costs, with analysts warning of rising poverty, a devastated middle class, rising public debt and environmental damage.

EU proposes energy emergency measures as war with Russia tests Europe

Russia’s cut in natural gas shipments, which is used to power grids and heat homes in many parts of Europe, is the biggest factor driving up prices. But it has been exacerbated by other setbacks, including the scheduled shutdown of French nuclear power plants to repair corrosion. French authorities have warned the public to be prepared for the possibility of blackouts later this year. To conserve energy, The Eiffel Tower – a towering lantern that usually illuminates the City of Lights until 1 a.m. – will be shut down by 11:45 p.m.

From Naples to Nuremberg, Germany, consumers are opening their energy bills to sticker shock.

“Putin has played everything. So every cut in Russian gas supplies has raised prices for us,” Klaus Müller, head of Germany’s energy regulator, told The Washington Post. “This is the price of this war.”

Europeans were already funding the transition to renewable energy sources through taxes and levies on their electricity bills, paying more on average than their American counterparts. Now, this gap has widened. As winter approaches, the economic pain could test the continent’s commitment to sanctions to punish Russia for invading Ukraine.

Short of soldiers to send to war, Russian mercenaries recruit in prisons

Rising prices have become a key issue for European parties known for cozy relations with Moscow, raising doubts about the wisdom of sanctions in inflation-stricken countries. Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s right-wing League party, which is part of a coalition set to win national elections this month – suggested Italians were paying too high a price. The typically pro-Russian far-right in Germany, meanwhile, is mobilizing a “cold of rage,” calling for ratepayers to take to the streets against lower energy prices.

“The enemies of democracy are only waiting to abuse the crisis to spread doomsday, fear and uncertainty,” German Interior Minister Nancy Fesser told the Rheinische Post last week. is responsible for those who are particularly affected by rising prices.”

Ahead of an unexpected winter, European consumers are getting desperate.

In Britain, a A recent survey showed that nearly one in four people were planning to keep warm this winter. The country, unlike some of its European neighbors, is not dependent on Russia for its natural gas – it accounts for less than 4 percent of its supply. But its energy market has been hit by high prices due to shortages elsewhere. Domestic gas prices rose by 96 percent and electricity prices by 54 percent by July.

Prime Minister Liz Truss, in her first major announcement as head of government, said last week that consumers’ energy bills would be frozen for two years. The typical household would pay no more than $2,885 a year, the government said, a saving of more than $1,000 a year over commercial rates.

Ed Trevett, 55, owner of Brickyard Bakery in Guisborough, England, said it would not be enough to save his business. He said if energy prices stay this high, they will be forced to close next year. The cost of running his bread oven has doubled from last year to $2,300 a month. The increase comes on top of rising UK inflation, which is at a 40-year high.

“Energy prices are weak, but that’s about it. Last year alone the cost of my flour went up 80 percent,” Trevett said. “It’s just not sustainable.”

Even as heat scorched Europe this summer, panicked buyers began stockpiling firewood weeks in advance, driving up prices.

The American official says, ‘The Russians are in trouble.

In the rural Hungarian village of Ag, two hours southwest of Budapest, Nicoleta Klemen said the price of firewood – used almost exclusively as winter fuel – has almost doubled. The 35-year-old NGO worker said the cost of lighting a tree fire is now about half of the village’s average salary of $249 a month.

“I imagine it will come down to burning furniture,” Kleman said.

Wood theft has increased in the forests around Stuttgart, Germany, according to Götz Blu von Dieneutz, who oversees forest management in the area.

“They drive up with a trailer or a tractor and a loading truck and a crane, they have professional equipment, saw the stuff together and haul it out,” he said. “Courage prevails.”

Officials have warned that illegal logging and emissions from old ovens do not make burning wood environmentally friendly. But many here feel as if they have no choice.

On the last day of August, Russia shut down the Nord Stream 1 pipeline – the main gas link to Germany – claiming it needed maintenance. This month, Putin blamed Western sanctions for the delay and warned that he would cut off energy supplies entirely if the West followed through on its pledge to impose price caps on Russian energy exports.

“We will not supply gas, oil, coal, heating oil – we will not supply anything,” Putin said during an economic forum in the Pacific city of Vladivostok, Russia.

Germany, teetering on recession, is ahead of schedule in filling its gas reserves. But extreme cold can still cause problems. Officials say that if the government imposes rationing, it will put citizens ahead of industry.

The German government also released a 65 billion euro aid package this month to help struggling households – the third in seven months – while vowing to cut excessive profits from providers.

But analysts say the package could be of limited help to millions of people. With aid checks not due until December, the Germans will now be left on the upswing. And for many, poverty researcher Christoph Butterweg said, the one-time check won’t fully offset the price increase.

He expects many German households to be paying 20 to 30 percent of their income on energy by winter, increasing the rate of energy poverty, which is defined as the net cost of electricity and heat in Germany. More than 10 percent of the income has been made as payment.

“There will be poor people who will face the alternative of starving or freezing,” Butterwegge said.

For Putin and Xi Jinping, the Ukraine war creates a wrinkle in the ‘no limits’ friendship.

Mertens should receive about $300 from the new package in December, not enough to cover the $390 in extra energy costs he’ll pay between now and then. Unless prices come down, or the government steps in again, he will be billed at least $78 more a month starting in January. More, if prices rise further.

It’s money he doesn’t have. Wealthy households may manage, but they live on the margins, where every euro counts. It comes down to choices like cutting back on food and soap, or giving up on replacing her torn winter boots.

“Such thoughts,” he said. “They come over you like a hot wave and leave you gasping for air.”

On a recent morning in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood, 41-year-old scientist Vincenzo Schönfelder saw Schrobeck inspecting his old white-and-gold furnace. Built in the 1880s and unused for decades, the wood-burning oven is Schönfelder’s fallback as Germany runs out of heating gas this winter.

“This is what scares us the most, that the power supply is no longer stable,” he said.

It reminded him of growing up in East Germany, where citizens were more than prepared for the occasional blackout. “The last time I experienced it. [uncertainty] I was a kid in the 80s.

He resents what he sees as a struggle between Washington and Moscow that again describes the Germans as being caught in the middle.

The sanctions “have not ended the war, and they have not weakened Russia substantially,” he said. “At the same time, they really hurt Germany a lot.”

Meanwhile, he said, “Americans are watching comfortably.”

Adam reported from London. Meg Kelly in Berlin contributed to this report.

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