Russian coal banned across the EU as new sanctions bite
Trent Murray in Berlin, Germany
The Staudinger coal power plant outside Frankfurt. Germany is reopening 10 shuttered coal-fired power stations. /Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

The Staudinger coal power plant outside Frankfurt. Germany is reopening 10 shuttered coal-fired power stations. /Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

An EU import ban on Russian coal came into force on Wednesday – the latest in a suite of sanctions designed to rob Russia of lucrative fossil-fuel revenue. 

Under the rules, EU countries will no longer be allowed to buy coal from Moscow. It comes as much of Europe is already facing the possibility of energy shortages over the winter, after Russia cut back natural gas supplies to key export pipelines, including Nord Stream 1 which connects Russia to Northern Germany. 

Cities across Germany are working to cut back energy use, in an attempt to preserve gas supplies for the winter. Many cities and towns have opted to switch off street lights and turn off hot water at public swimming pools. 


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However, government forecasters say savings won't be enough to stabilize the grid, especially over the winter. Germany has also fired up 10 coal power plants which had already been retired – burning lignite coal seen as a difficult but necessary measure to shore up electricity supplies.

But as with gas, challenges around where to source coal persist – especially as the full force of the Russian ban is likely to be felt in coming months. Before the war in Ukraine, Germany got almost half its coal from Russia with the search now on for alternative sources from further abroad expected to put even more pressure on household bills.

Professor Christian Schweiger, a political scientist at Chemnitz University of Technology, says the impact of rising electricity prices on households remains a major challenge for the Scholz Government. 

"The less well-off people in Germany are less likely to accept that they should face additional financial burden for a somewhat ethical foreign policy that they don't fully support," he said. "It will be very difficult for the government to find full-hearted support amongst the German population for this."


Looking further afield 

Germany will increase coal imports from further abroad to compensate for the loss of Russian supplies. Exports from the U.S., Australia and South Africa are expected to increase to help to power the freshly re-opened plants. 

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the situation underscores the need for the country to move faster towards cleaner sources of power that can be generated domestically. 

"We see how dependent we are from energy imports all over the world and in this case, especially from Russia," he told reporters while visiting a hydrogen plant in western Germany. 

"It's important to know that we in Germany have technical abilities that are realistic and produce economically functioning jobs and economic value, which can help free us from this dependency and defend our own sovereignty."


Household supplies guaranteed 

The government maintains the households will have enough heating over the winter – and that if energy does need to be rationed, it will be heavy industry asked to power down.

But shoring up supplies does come at a cost: bills are expected to rise across the board. Even with increased coal output, a new energy levy being proposed by the Scholz government is expected to cost the average four-person family around $1,200 extra per year.

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