After detailed consultation with experts and the government, Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) on Thursday activated the second of three escalation levels in the gas emergency plan. The early warning level was announced on March 30th.
At a press conference, he justified the decision as follows: “We have a disruption in the gas supply in Germany.” However, the market is currently still able to cope with this disruption or demand.
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Only when the government declares the third and thus final “emergency level” can the state actively intervene in the gas market.
What does the current alarm level mean for consumers and what price increases can be expected now?
What price increases can consumers now expect?
Consumer advocates consider a significant increase in gas prices to be possible as a result of the new regulation. The energy expert at the consumer advice center in North Rhine-Westphalia, Udo Sieverding, fears that the development could now drastically worsen as part of the new alarm level: “With price increases because of the gas shortage let’s go in the direction of tripling or quadrupling.”
Thomas Engelke from the Federal Association of Consumer Advice Centers also points out that there is no upper price cap. For some households, a price increase of three to four times could mean financial collapse.
But how much additional costs do private customers have to reckon with? Engelke calculates that a household with an average annual consumption of 20,000 kilowatt hours of natural gas can expect additional costs of 1,000 to 2,000 euros per year even before the alarm level is declared.
According to the energy expert, as soon as the energy suppliers are allowed to pass on the high gas prices directly to the consumers, “much higher additional costs could arise”. But consumers are still protected from such a price pass-through.
When should consumers expect prices to rise?
It was only in May that the Bundestag approved an amendment to the Energy Security Act (EnSiG) that allows energy suppliers to pass on prices directly to consumers in the event of an alarm level being declared. This affects both companies and private households.
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An additional regulation in paragraph 24 of the law is crucial for consumers: only if the Federal Network Agency has a “considerable Reduction of total gas import volumes to Germany”, the energy suppliers are allowed to raise the prices to an “appropriate level”. However, according to energy expert Thomas Engelke, there is no upper limit to this level.
Should this regulation come into force, consumers will have to be prepared for rapidly rising prices. Because according to the currently applicable EnSiG, price increases can take effect as early as one week after notification by the supplier. The consumer advice center is already calling for the deadline to be extended by four weeks.
How you can save energy and what alternatives there are to gas
Are consumers protected by a “Price Guarantee”?
According to the current legal situation, paragraph 24 of the EnSiG can undermine a contractually secured price guarantee. This also applies to fixed prices. In concrete terms, this means that even if the consumer has been promised a “price guarantee” in the supply contract, this is not effective if the energy suppliers are allowed to pass on the prices directly to the consumer.
When can consumers terminate their existing contract?
If a gas supplier wants to increase its prices, it is legally obliged to inform the consumer.
Current law allows consumers to cancel “immediately” once they have received such notice of a price increase from their gas supplier.
The Federal Association of Consumer Centers is currently demanding that an extraordinary termination should also be effective four weeks after notification by the supplier.
To what extent can consumers take countermeasures?
Consumer advocates advise end customers to contact their respective gas supplier to discuss an appropriate adjustment of the advance payments. Contact with the provider should be sought in particular if the consumer falls into arrears with payments. In most cases, solutions such as installment payments or special regulations can be found in a direct conversation.
In a press conference on Thursday, Economics Minister Habeck also called on consumers to save energy in private households.
Servicing and checking the heating system again can also help now: “It makes sense to adjust the heating sensibly,” says the politician. This could result in gas savings of up to 15 percent. However, professional maintenance of a heating system is associated with additional costs.
When can a gas blackout occur?
Even within the framework of the currently applicable alarm level, the end customer can be threatened with a so-called gas blockage in the event of late payment. If the gas tap is actually turned off at home, the customer will incur additional costs, since a technician is required to turn it off and start it up again.
Consumer advocates are currently calling for such gas barriers to be suspended. Energy expert Engelke thinks this is how low-income households can be protected.
Before there is a gas blockage, the supplier will always contact the customer – also to announce a date for the blockage. Before it gets that far, the consumer should contact the supplier in order to find individual solutions beyond the blocking. (with agencies)