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Germany’s energy hypocrisy made it an easy blackmail target


Returning turbine for Russian natural gas pipeline also shows Canada is unreliable on sanctions

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Canada found itself caught in the middle of two of our allies this week, when the federal government decided to send a gas turbine, which Russia claims is needed to return the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline to full capacity, back to Germany. The Germans, who are facing an energy crisis, thanked their “Canadian friends and allies,” while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that it would be “perceived in Moscow as a manifestation of weakness.”

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It is regrettable that the federal Liberals caved to Russian blackmail, confirming that Canada can often only be counted on when there is no cost. But Ottawa was only in the unenviable position of having to choose between honouring sanctions and helping an ally, because of Germany and its decades of bad energy policies. Berlin chose to become overly dependent on an enemy state, while eschewing both fossil fuels and nuclear energy in a failed attempt to meet its ambitious climate targets and appease its anti-nuclear movement. To make matters worse, the German government is still pursuing this hypocritical agenda.

The origins of the current mess date back to 1970, at the height of the Cold War, when West Germany signed an agreement with the Soviet Union to supply it with gas from Siberia. NATO rightly raised concerns at the time, but was assured by the West German government that Russia would never account for more than 10 per cent of its natural gas supplies.

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Fifty years later, Russia supplies between 35 and 50 per cent of Germany’s gas. And although Russia has also been providing the country with coal and uranium, it is its control over Europe’s gas supply that has given Moscow so much leverage and allowed it to fund its ongoing war of aggression in Ukraine with western cash.

At the same time, Germany has spent the past 20 years aggressively trying to transition its electrical grid to renewable sources of energy. The country’s over-reliance on wind and solar have caused its own set of problems, but Berlin’s biggest mistake was phasing out nuclear energy. In 2011, Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors produced about a quarter of its electricity. The first attempt to phase them out was announced in the early 2000s by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s coalition government, in which the Greens held the balance of power.

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The architect of the phase-out was Juergen Trittin, leader of the Green party and environment minister at the time, who was trying to balance his party’s traditional opposition to nuclear energy with the burgeoning environmentalist crusade against global warming.

Trittin was warned that decommissioning the country’s nuclear plants, which don’t produce any greenhouse gasses, would cause Germany to become more reliant on dirty coal and Russian gas. In 2005, Trittin dismissed these concerns, saying that he couldn’t “take these arguments seriously.” Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened.

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But Germany has had ample opportunities to change course since then. In fact, former chancellor Angela Merkel did reverse the policy in 2010, only to do an about-face a few months later, due to pressure following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. As a result, the amount of power generated from nuclear dropped to 13 per cent in 2021 and is now down to six per cent, with only three power plants still in operation.

This has come at a huge cost. According to a 2019 paper from the U.S.-based National Bureau of Economic Research, had Germany kept its reactors operating, it would be burning 25 per cent less gas and about 33 per cent less coal. This would have helped Germany meet its climate targets, saved around 1,100 lives that have been lost due to the pollution caused by burning coal and made it less reliant on Russian energy.

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Given the evidence and the current energy crisis, Merkel’s Christian Democratic party, now in opposition under new leader Friedrich Merz, has since realized the error of its ways, with a number of prominent politicians admitting that they made mistakes. The party also put forward a resolution to continue operating the country’s three remaining nuclear plants. But late last week, it was handily defeated by the governing coalition, due to strong opposition from the Social Democratic party and — surprise, surprise — the Greens.

Government officials claim that decommissioning the plants won’t have much of an impact on the gas shortage. Indeed, at the same time as it voted against extending the life of its remaining nuclear reactors, the Bundestag passed emergency legislation to reopen some of the country’s shuttered coal-fired power plants.

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The proper solution would have been to explore the possibility of reopening the three nuclear power stations that were taken offline at the end of last year, or using its mothballed coal generators to displace the roughly 13 per cent of the country’s electricity that currently comes from natural-gas generation, thus allowing it to increase its stockpiles for the winter months. Instead, the government chose to double down on the same green hypocrisy that created the current mess.

There is a lesson in this for Canada, which, under the Liberals, has also allowed ideological zealotry about climate change to trump pragmatism and our geopolitical interests. Canada could have been part of the solution to Europe’s energy crunch if we had not allowed politics to stand in the way of building pipelines and LNG export terminals. Instead, we were left holding the gas turbine, forced to make a decision that would end up angering one of our friends, no matter what we did.

National Post

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