Lars Klingbeil on a summer trip: romance in Wilhelmshaven

Energy is the top issue in the Lower Saxony election campaign. The SPD relies on the topic. But it could also be her downfall.

Three men stand on board a ship and laugh

All clear for the turn - SPD chairman Klingbeil, environment minister Lies and Uniper manager Kreetz Photo: Fionn Grosse

WILHELMSHAVEN taz | The first raindrops are drumming on the steel roof of the Jantje, but Lars Klingbeil is pushing onto the open deck. The SPD federal chairman stands next to the local member of the Bundestag Siemtje Möller and the Lower Saxony environment minister, Olaf Lies. He raves: "Now there's even a rainbow over the LNG terminal, how romantic." In fact: on the horizon above the cranes in the Wadden Sea, which mark the construction site of the new liquid gas terminal, a bright rainbow arches. What a picture! LPG, Hope, SPD.

The terminal in Wilhelmshaven is one of four where tankers with liquefied gas will soon dock. They are supposed to help replace the Russian pipeline gas, which is becoming increasingly scarce and from which Germany has wanted to become independent since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Wilhelmshaven is in the north of Lower Saxony, where a new state parliament will be elected on October 9th. Energy is the dominant campaign issue. The state CDU railed against the Berlin traffic lights, the FDP surprises with nuclear power posters and SPD Prime Minister Stephan Weil advertises that Lower Saxony wants to be the number one energy state. At the same time, it is precisely this issue that could thwart his re-election: his worst opponents are not his political competitors, but the rising electricity and gas prices. The whopping lead of his SPD over the state CDU has melted since June to three percentage points.

And the SPD, which is weakening in the federal government, urgently needs an energy boost, i.e. an election victory in Lower Saxony. The summer trip of Federal Chairman Klingbeil is primarily an election campaign trip. "What happens here in Wilhelmshaven is crucial for the rest of the republic," says Klingbeil, his hair tousled in the wind.

The Jantje chugs past the Nato port, where steel-gray battleships lie in wait. The Bundeswehr is the largest employer in Wilhelmshaven, with this part of the turning point there is no problem here. But neither does the other part.

Up to 60 LNG tankers per year

He was sitting in the living room, listening to music and writing a speech when the Federal Chancellor made a government statement in the Bundestag on February 27, says Mayor Carsten Feist, who is not a party, in a booming bass voice. In his "Zeitenwende" speech, Scholz not only announced that Germany would invest 100 billion euros in the Bundeswehr. But also that you want to become less dependent on individual energy suppliers and build two liquid gas terminals, one of them in Wilhelmshaven.

After that, his phone didn't stop ringing, says Feist, and now he's also learned that his community is to become an energy hub. Alright. "We're just doing it now, together with the country. And at the speed we're going through, we'll get there," he says.

As early as December 21, the first floating terminal should be ready, actually a converted tanker, a so-called storage and evaporation unit (FSRU). A day later, the first ship with liquid gas cooled to minus 170 degrees is to land, which is to be converted back into the gaseous state in the FSRU and pumped from there into the grid via pipelines. 50 to 60 tankers are to call at the terminal per year and replace up to 20 percent of the current Russian gas.

The future is called “hydrogen”

"LNG, fracked gas, actually completely insane," says the head of the National Park Center Lars Klein, who is on board the Jantje. He can still live with it as long as it serves as a transition and an overarching goal, namely the rapid switch to renewable energies. The greatest threat to the Wadden Sea National Park is climate change.

"Whatever fossil gas arrives today will very quickly be green gas," predicts SPD Environment Minister Olaf Lies. By the end of the decade, the liquefied gas terminals are to become hydrogen terminals, where the hydrogen arrives from overseas. The gas that is created, for example, by cutting off the oxygen atom from the water molecule. Which requires quite a lot of energy, but according to the Environment Minister, it should be obtained exclusively from wind and sun, i.e. it should be green.

Somewhat exaggerated. After the boat tour across the Jade Bay, Klingbeil attends a meeting with entrepreneurs. In fact, there are almost exclusively men in the room. They have joined forces in Wilhelmshaven to form the hydrogen round table and want to produce the new miracle gas themselves or use it as an energy source. Wintershall Dea is one of them. The energy company relies on blue hydrogen, which is derived from natural gas, with the captured CO₂ being stored instead of being blown into the atmosphere, the representative reports.

The companies that are drawn to Wilhelmshaven also include a paper factory that wants to use the waste heat from the other factories for its production - "like a cleaner fish that lives on the waste products of the others and is CO₂-neutral from the start," enthuses the paper manufacturer.

lid on it

In any case, Mayor Feist senses a spirit of optimism in Wilhelmshaven. “Liquid gas is what we are doing as a transition. But with hydrogen, value is added.” He hopes that his community will benefit from it.

Crazy. Everything that is happening in Wilhelmshaven could have happened a long time ago. Three years ago, the idea of ​​building liquid gas terminals was considered, says Holger Kreetz from Uniper, the energy company that now operates the Wilhelmshaven terminal, which was set up in a hurry. At that time there was no political support.

Lars Klingbeil was asked the day before at a meeting with citizens in Oldenburg when energy prices would return to normal. Gas will remain expensive, says Klingbeil, and that these two years will be very difficult. They just rested too long on cheap Russian gas. There's something almost Habeckish about his contrition.

Klingbeil assures that Stephan (Weil) and Olaf (Lies) are now speeding up in Wilhelmshaven. And that the citizens will also be relieved. "It is important that we intervene in the gas market and provide citizens and companies with an affordable quota." For a gas price cap, which the FDP has always rejected. But if Klingbeil has its way, there will already be a concrete model in October of what such a cover can look like. So for the state election.

The sea has calmed down again when the Jantje docks. The sun is shining. If that's not an omen. But Klingbeil does not take a photo this time.

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