Wary of Russian 'blackmail', Germany unveils energy-saving measures

BERLIN, July 21 (Reuters) - Germany's government unveiled new energy-saving measures and tightened its gas storage targets on Thursday, fearing that persistently low Russian gas supplies could lead to winter shortages.

The measures include a ban on heating swimming pools in private homes in winter, suspending minimum temperature requirements for apartments in rental contracts, and encouraging more people to work from home during certain periods.

Germany has accused Moscow of throttling gas supplies to Europe on spurious pretexts in retaliation for sanctions after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Russia denies doing so and President Vladimir Putin this week said Moscow was ready to fulfil all its obligations.

The main pipeline delivering gas from Russia to Germany resumed deliveries on Thursday after a scheduled maintenance period. But the deliveries from the Nord Stream 1 pipeline have thus far been at only 40% capacity, which German officials say puts Germany's ability to store enough gas at risk.

"Putin's goal is to unsettle, drive up prices, divide society and to weaken support for Ukraine," said Economy Minister Robert Habeck, accusing Russia of using energy to "blackmail Europe and Germany".

"We don't bow to it but counteract this with concentrated and consistent action. We take precautions so that we can get through the winter," he said while unveiling the measures.

Germany will now aim to have its gas storage facilities 85% full by Oct. 1 and 95% full by Nov. 1, up from earlier targets of 80% and 90%, respectively, Habeck's economy ministry said in a statement.

The ministry, which also introduced a new target of 75% of gas storage filled by Sept. 1, is implementing the specifications to ensure that storage facilities will be continually refilled.

Separately, the government may soon trigger a clause allowing energy companies to pass on higher gas costs to consumers as a way of helping utilities such as Uniper (UN01.DE), which has appealed for a state bailout.

Such a clause should only be triggered in combination with relief measures for low-income households, said Habeck, adding: "I know most in the federal government see it the same way."

Reporting by Riham Alkousaa and Matthias Williams, Writing by Miranda Murray, Editing by Rachel More, William Maclean

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Riham Alkousaa is the energy and climate change correspondent for Reuters in Germany, covering Europe’s biggest economy's green transition and Europe’s energy crisis. Alkousaa is a Columbia University Journalism School graduate and has 10 years of experience as a journalist covering Europe’s refugee crisis and the Syrian civil war for publications such Der Spiegel Magazine, USA Today and the Washington Times. Alkousaa was on two teams that won Reuters Journalist of the year awards in 2022 for her coverage of Europe’s energy crisis and the Ukraine war. She has also won the Foreign Press Association Award in 2017 in New York and the White House Correspondent Association Scholarship that year.