Germans face higher bills as tax helps natural gas importers

BERLIN — Germans are facing a new tax on natural gas use that could cost the average household several hundred euros a year and is aimed at bailing out importers affected by Russia’s austerity measures linked to the war in Ukraine.

An association of gas pipeline operators set the level on Monday at 2.4 cents per kilowatt-hour under legislation passed by the German parliament, with an expected range of 1 to 5 cents. The tax on gas used in winter to heat homes and generate electricity will come into effect in October and run until the beginning of April. It doesn’t show up on utility bills until November or December.

Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck has said the tax will add several hundred euros per year to the average household. The government is looking for ways to soften the blow through financial support to poorer households and a proposed cut in VAT.

The gas tax will raise money to compensate Russian gas importers whose contracts with municipal utilities do not allow them to pass on the costs of rising natural gas prices. Russia has sharply reduced supplies of natural gas that costs less under long-term contracts, forcing importers to buy much more expensive gas on the spot market to meet their obligations.

The government has agreed to bail out the largest importer, Uniper. Habeck said 12 importers have applied for aid and would receive €34 billion, or about 90% of their exceptional costs, the dpa news agency reported.

Russian state-owned gas exporter Gazprom has called back shipments to Europe, leading to accusations that the Kremlin is using the resulting gas shortage to push prices up and pressure European Union governments for supporting them. Ukraine and sanctions against Russia after the invasion.

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