At the end of August, at least that is the plan, gas consumers will be able to calculate: The amount of the new gas levy will then be fixed. So far, German Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) has been guessing and has given a range of 1.5 to five cents per kilowatt hour.
Last year, household customers paid an average of 6.68 cents per kilowatt hour for natural gas. About half of all homes in Germany are heated with gas. However, not only private households pay the levy, but also companies. And consumers of district heating: "We are still in the process of calculating exactly how the levy will be applied here," says the German Federal Ministry of Economics.
Based on the Energy Security Act, the additional purchase costs will be passed on to all gas consumers starting in October. Not 100 percent, but at least 90 percent. If, for example, Uniper as the largest gas trader in this country no longer gets enough gas, therefore has to buy on a daily basis and pays three times as much for the gas, then the community of gas consumers will bear 90 percent of this.
For many consumers, this is an enormous challenge. According to calculations by the Internet portal Check24, a single household with an annual consumption of 5,000 kilowatt hours would have to pay between 89 and 298 euros a year for the apportionment alone, while a family with a consumption of 20,000 kilowatt hours would have to reckon with additional costs of 357 to 1190 euros.
Consumers, who have a price guarantee in their contracts and hope to be spared therefore, are wrong, warns Udo Sieverding, energy expert of the consumer center North Rhine-Westphalia. Because this guarantee does not protect against state apportionments or levies. "Everyone has to pay," says the consumer protection expert.
However, this only affects gas customers. And they are already suffering from the high prices when they need a new contract. Since July of last year, prices for a family household have risen from 1300 euros to 3415 euros a year. Those who heat with electricity or oil are spared the levy. Sieverding thinks this is not fair: "It's about solidarity across society, tax increases would make more sense than a levy." He also fears that more and more fan heaters will be plugged into sockets in the winter, putting a strain on the power grid.
There are several reasons why only gas consumers have to pay the levy and households with oil heating, for example, are not involved in the solidarity-based financing of the higher procurement costs. Gas is the scarcest commodity among energy sources, and the high price increases savings efforts. A levy that affects everyone is a serious intervention that must be proportionate and legally secure; the restriction to gas takes this into account.
Finally, the practical implementation: the additional costs and then correspondingly the amount of the levy can be determined relatively easily. The long-distance gas network operators in this country - around a dozen companies - have established Trading Hub Europe GmbH (THE) as the market area manager for the German gas market.
These days, THE is looking at the prices at which Uniper and other traders have to buy gas on each trading day because they are getting less from Russia than agreed. Then it will calculate how high the levy must be so that 90 percent of the additional procurement costs are borne by all consumers via a levy. The same amount per kilowatt hour is to apply to all customers, regardless of where and when they concluded their contract.
Until the end of September the importers must still carry their costs themselves, "so that also under this criterion a fair burden distribution takes place", communicates the ministry of economics in addition. The levy will probably come into force on October 1 and, according to the current status, will be charged for one and a half years. In this regard, the ministry explains, "The levy is to apply for a limited period until Sept. 30, 2024." The period from April 2024 to September is due to the administrative effort to examine the claims of gas traders affected by the high gas prices.
The Federation of German Industries argues for a price cap, for example by stretching the levy over time or staggered amounts. "Otherwise, the gas levy threatens to massively undermine the competitiveness of companies." A levy of five cents/kilowatt hour would increase the gas costs per job in some companies by a good 20,000 euros.
The German Energy Industry Association welcomes the levy as a measure to pass on replacement costs quickly and reliably and thus "to maintain the liquidity of the energy supply companies". The charm of this solution, it says, lies in the fact that the charges "are levied equally on all end consumers and without privileging certain customer groups." This allows for a transparent calculation of the levy and a fair distribution of the burden.
All gas consumers must pay more. Whether and how the community of taxpayers will bear part of the additional burden as part of a further relief package will be decided in the fall. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has invited the social partners to a second meeting of the Concerted Action for September 15. The DGB called for an energy price cap for private households. This would mean setting a basic requirement for electricity and gas for every adult and child.
Ramona Pop (Greens), Berlin Senator for Economic Affairs until last fall and now head of the consumer advice centers, warns of a redistribution in favor of companies as a result of the new levy. "The price disclosure may only serve to avoid insolvency of the companies concerned, not to protect bonuses or dividends," Pop told the Tagesspiegel.
Photo by Kwon Junho