EU ministers meet over 'energy war' as power bills surge

By Reuters   September 9, 2022 | 01:12 am PT
EU ministers meet over 'energy war' as power bills surge
Gas installation is pictured at the Cavern Underground Gas Storage (CUGS) Kosakowo facility, near Debogorze, Poland April, 30. 2022. Photo by Reuters/Kacper Pempel
European Union energy ministers met on Friday to seek agreement on ways to shield citizens from sky-high energy prices and prevent power utilities from collapsing.

EU diplomats say member states broadly back proposals to help power providers from being crushed by a liquidity crunch but are divided about plans to cap Russian gas prices.

Russia, which supplied Europe with a third of its gas supplies until its invasion of Ukraine sparked a crisis, has said it would turn off supplies completely if a cap is imposed.

Friday's ministerial talks aim to whittle down options to those with broad support before presenting formal proposals, rather than reaching a final decision.

"We are in an energy war with Russia," Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela said as he arrived at the emergency Brussels meeting. "We have to send a clear signal that we would do whatever it takes to support our households, our economies."

Energy bills, already surging as demand for gas recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, rocketed higher still after Russia invaded Ukraine and the West imposed sanctions on Moscow. Governments have been scrambling to limit the price shock.

The European Commission has proposed offering emergency liquidity for power firms facing soaring collateral requirements, a move diplomats said EU governments broadly supported. Some also back proposals to curbing power demand.

"I'm pretty sure we will align on liquidity measures to help companies," Sikela said, adding ministers would strive for a deal to "calm down the markets and not make them nervous."

But diplomats said the price cap proposal divided opinion, with some saying it would not help given Moscow's deliveries to Europe have plummeted. Some central European states which still receive Russian gas fear losing it completely.

"There is not that much Russian gas coming to Europe, so I don't see the added value of that (a Russian gas price cap)," Belgium's Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten told Reuters.

Baltic states are among those backing the idea, saying a cap would deprive Moscow of cash to fund military action in Ukraine.

"Russia has said if you want our gas, take down the sanctions. It is blackmail. We cannot back down, we have to be united, we have to have the political will to help Ukraine win," Estonian Economic Affairs Minister Riina Sikkut said.

An idea to claw back revenues from non-gas power generators and spend the cash on cutting consumer bills has also stirred resistance in some European capitals.

The EU proposal would cap at 200 euros ($199.86) per megawatt hour the price non-gas generators are paid for power, applying to wind, nuclear and coal generators, according to a draft seen by Reuters.

France, home to Europe's biggest nuclear power fleet, questioned whether the same limit should be applied to all generators.

The EU ministers will hold a minute's silence at the start of their meeting, in memory of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, who died on Thursday after 70 years on the throne.

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