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German antitrust authority approves coordinated utility LNG import plans

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German antitrust authority approves coordinated utility LNG import plans

Highlights

Uniper, RWE, EnBW/VNG signed supply MOU in mid-August

Advantages of plan outweigh any competition concerns: Mundt

German government in talks over more gas nationalization

  • Author
  • Stuart Elliott
  • Editor
  • Jonathan Fox
  • Commodity
  • LNG Natural Gas

Germany's antitrust authority has approved plans for three key German gas importers to coordinate LNG supplies to two floating LNG terminals, saying that the urgent need for new gas supply outweighed any competition concerns.

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In a statement Sept. 15, the Bundeskartellamt said it had no competition concerns about the way Uniper, RWE and EnBW/VNG were currently planning to work together at the Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel FSRUs.

The three companies signed a memorandum of understanding with the German economy ministry in mid-August on the operation of the two FSRUs and on the supply of LNG into the terminals to guarantee their full use.

"The rapid commissioning of the LNG terminals can create urgently needed and price-reducing import capacities for gas in a relatively short period of time," Bundeskartellamt President Andreas Mundt said.

"The advantages for consumers associated with this outweigh any negative effects on competition."

Germany -- which has no LNG import infrastructure at present -- is accelerating work to deploy the FSRUs at Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel to offset lost Russian gas volumes.

The reduction in Russian flows to Germany via Nord Stream since mid-June and then the complete halt in deliveries at the end of August have helped keep European gas prices at sustained highs.

Platts, part of S&P Global Commodity Insights, assessed the Dutch TTF month-ahead price at an all-time high of Eur319.98/MWh on Aug. 26. It was last assessed on Sept. 15 at Eur212.25/MWh, still 220% higher year on year.

Germany is developing a total of five state-backed FSRU projects, but the focus is initially on supplying LNG into the Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel sites.

Under the MOU with the economy ministry, it was agreed that the two terminals would be operated by Uniper and RWE on a transitional basis until a special purpose vehicle took over the operation.

In addition to Uniper and RWE, EnBW and its subsidiary VNG were tasked with ensuring the supply of LNG to the FSRUs, with corresponding legally binding contracts being drawn up.

The three companies will be responsible for LNG supplies to the two FSRUs for a limited time to March 2024.

'Exclusive' use

The two terminals combined will have a regasification capacity of up to 12.5 Bcm/year, and will enable Germany to access the global LNG market directly for the first time.

Mundt said that the LNG cooperation agreement was deemed critically important to German gas supply security.

"In normal times the cooperation between these three very important gas importers and wholesalers -- and especially the exclusive use of import capacities at the terminals -- would possibly have to be assessed more critically," he said.

"It was also important for us that the planned operator model is initially set up for a limited period until March 2024."

The Bundeskartellamt said the LNG would be supplied by the three companies on the basis of fixed supply quotas.

"The companies involved will continue to procure LNG independently of one another on the world market," it said. "The marketing of the imported gas will also be carried out separately."

It said that it should also be taken into account that developing a viable access model for additional gas importers would require some lead time.

"A complex access model also including additional providers might not ensure the urgently needed maximum utilization of the terminals, at least not in the short term," it said.

Nationalization talks

Meanwhile, the German government remains in talks with Uniper on the possibility of taking a "significant" majority stake in the utility.

In July, the German government said the state would take a 30% stake in Uniper and allow the cost of buying gas to replace lost Russian volumes to be passed onto consumers from October as part of a stabilization package.

However, with gas prices having surged again in August, the state is now considering a higher stake.

VNG has also applied for stabilization measures due to the high cost of purchasing gas to replace lost Russian volumes.

VNG is Germany's third-largest gas importer and storage operator, and has been forced to buy replacement gas on the open market at high prices due to curtailments in Russian gas deliveries.

The German government is also reportedly considering a majority equity stake in VNG as well as trader SEFE -- formerly Gazprom Germania -- which is currently under trusteeship of the German energy regulator.