Utility Uniper is asking the state for help

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Russia has been delivering less gas to Germany since mid-June. This is now causing financial difficulties for the energy supplier Uniper. He's now calling for government help again.

Uniper headquarters in Düsseldorf

The energy company Uniper is groaning under the high gas prices due to the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine and is therefore calling on the state for help.

The Federal Ministry of Economics confirmed talks on Thursday with Uniper about stability measures: “These are ongoing. The reason for this is the sharp rise in gas prices and the reduced delivery volumes from Russia as a result of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine.”

On Wednesday evening, Uniper withdrew its earnings forecast for the 2022 financial year and did not issue a new one. Business development has deteriorated noticeably as a result of the war in Ukraine and the subsequent sharp reduction in gas supplies from Russia. “Since June 14, Uniper has only received 40 percent of its contractually guaranteed gas volumes from Gazprom,” explained CFO Tiina Tuomela. At times, the share slipped more than 22 percent.

“We are therefore now talking to the federal government again about stabilization measures, for which a number of instruments are possible, such as guarantees and security payments, an increase in the current credit facility and equity investments,” said Uniper CEO Klaus Dieter Maubach .

Largest Gazprom customer

Uniper – a subsidiary of the Finnish Fortum Group – is the largest foreign customer of the Russian gas giant Gazprom. With their gas storage facilities, the Düsseldorf-based company also plays an important role in securing Germany's supply in winter and in efforts to make Germany and Europe independent of Russian gas supplies.

Doesn't even want to rule out state participation in equity: Uniper boss Klaus-Dieter Maubach

Uniper's call for help is likely to increase the pressure on the federal government to relieve the burden on utilities. She had declared the alarm level for the gas supply last week. The traffic light coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP refrained from releasing the so-called price adjustment clause. This would enable suppliers to pass on the drastically increased gas prices to customers.

Uniper already had a significantly higher liquidity requirement at the end of last year due to the increased prices, said Maubach. “In order to counteract this, we had already expanded our credit lines and, among other things, received a facility from the state KfW in the amount of two billion euros, which we have not used to date.” Uniper is examining how the company's liquidity can be further secured.

Minister fears pipeline blockage

Meanwhile, Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habecke fears a complete lack of Russian gas supplies through the Baltic Sea gas pipeline Nord Stream. From July 11, there is a threat of “a total blockade of Nord Stream 1,” said the Green politician on Thursday at a “sustainability summit” in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. That's why it can be really problematic in winter. The gas supply over the summer, however, is guaranteed.

Annual maintenance work on Nord Stream 1 begins on July 11. Habeck said the pipeline is usually shut down for ten days. But based on the pattern seen, it wouldn't be “super surprising” if any small part was found. “And then you say: Yes, we can't turn that on again, now we found something during maintenance and that's it. So in that respect the situation is definitely tense.”

The Nord Stream1 Baltic Sea pipeline, through which Russian natural gas has been flowing to Germany since 2011, ends in Lubmin near Greifswald

In mid-June, Russia had already severely curtailed deliveries through Nord Stream, citing technical problems. In response, the federal government had declared the alarm level in the gas emergency plan. “Gas is now a scarce commodity in Germany,” Habeck said. He had launched a package of measures to reduce gas consumption in industry and gas can be stored instead.

Gas consumption has fallen

The appeals and measures to reduce gas consumption show now apparently having an effect: nationwide, gas consumption between January and May was around 460 billion kilowatt hours, as reported by the Federal Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) on Thursday. That was 14.3 percent less than in the first five months of the previous year.

In addition to the mild weather in spring, the high gas prices were also a major reason, it said. Because even adjusted for temperature effects, the decline compared to the previous year was still just under 6.5 percent, according to the association. The decline in May was particularly clear, explained the BDEW and referred to “personally motivated savings effects”.

bea/dk (reuters, dpa, afp)