An expert panel appointed by the German government has proposed a two-stage system for distributing some of the up to 200 billion euros (£175.5 billion) in subsidies the country has announced to ease the strain of high energy prices.
The group said the plan will still encourage people to save gas.
The panel suggested that the state take on the cost of natural gas customers’ monthly bills in December, followed by a price subsidy for part of their consumption starting next spring.
That “gas and heating price brake” would kick in next March and apply until April 2024, panel co-chairwoman Veronika Grimm said.
Private gas customers would pay 0.12 euros (11p) per kilowatt hour for the first 80% of the amount they used in 2021.
That “corresponds roughly to the price level that is expected in the future”, Ms Grimm said, telling reporters in Berlin that the plan aims to introduce a “new normal” but prevent price rises beyond that.
“It’s not going to be the case that the price goes back down to 7 cents in the future – we won’t receive Russian gas for a long time.”
Ms Grimm argued that the plan still incentivises people to save gas, because people who do so will avoid paying higher prices beyond the cap level.
She noted that Germany, which has Europe’s biggest economy, needs to reduce its previous gas consumption by about 20% to prevent a potential shortage this winter.
Co-chairman Siegfried Russwurm, head of the Federation of German Industries, said the proposal foresees businesses paying 0.07 euros (6p) per kilowatt hour for 70% of their 2021 gas use, starting at the beginning of January.
Mr Russwurm said gas price rises are posing an “existential” threat to an increasing number of companies.
“This is not just about the fate of individual companies and their jobs, it is about the strength and the export successes of German industry, because they are the backbone of the German economy,” he said.
Earlier on Monday, the panel, which included representatives of industry and trade unions, scientists and politicians, presented its conclusions to Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the country’s economy and finance ministers. It put the cost of the proposed gas price subsidies at about 90 billion euros (£79 billion).
Many European countries have proposed similar subsidies on fossil fuels, prices for which have increased sharply worldwide in the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine. But some of Germany’s neighbours have criticized the huge sum Berlin is setting aside, arguing that it will price others out of the market.
Mr Scholz argues that the criticism is based on a misunderstanding of his government’s plans and says Germany’s subsidy will prevent a shortage of gas that might occur under a system of enforced price caps proposed by other countries. He also has noted that it applies to a relatively long period.
The government will “work very quickly on implementing the proposals” by the panel, government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said. He noted that a check on whether they comply with European Union law will be necessary, and said that Germany “will act in European solidarity”.
Russia started reducing gas supplies to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, the main supply route, in June and cut them off completely over a month ago. The pipeline has since been damaged by underwater explosions.
Germany got a bit over a third of its gas supplies from Russia before the supply disruptions started, and previously more than that.