A German retiree facing sky-high energy bills is turning to a wood-burning stove. The owner of a dry cleaning business in Spain adjusted her employees’ work shifts to cut electric bills and installed solar panels. A mayor in France said he ordered a hiring freeze because rising electrical bills threaten a financial “catastrophe.”
Europeans have long paid some of the world’s highest prices for energy, but no one can remember a winter like this one. Lives and livelihoods across the continent are being upended by a series of factors, including pandemic-induced supply shortages and now geopolitical tensions that are driving some energy prices up fivefold.
Matters could get worse if tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalate further, potentially interrupting the flow of gas. Russia provides more than a third of Europe’s natural gas, which heats homes, generates electricity and powers factories. Even as politicians and leaders in capitals across Europe are freezing prices, slashing taxes on energy and issuing checks to households hardest hit by the price increases, concerns are growing about what the persistently high prices could mean for people’s jobs and their ability to pay their bills.
“People are very upset and very distressed,” said Stefanie Siegert, who counsels consumers in the eastern German state of Saxony who find themselves struggling to pay their gas and power bills.
rocked France in 2018. But Ms. Siegert, whose agency counseled more than 300 customers in January — three times its monthly average — said she wouldn’t be surprised if the anger currently directed at the prospect of a vaccine mandate shifted its sights to energy prices.
“When you talk with people, you feel their anger,” she said. “It is very depressing.”
price cap on energy bills was recently raised 54 percent, increasing annual charges to 1,971 pounds. That increase will affect 22 million households beginning in April, contributing to broadening worries in Britain about the rising cost of living.
Similar concerns can be found throughout the continent.
Athina Sirogianni, 46, a freelance translator in Athens, said she remembered fondly the day about a decade ago when her building switched from oil to natural gas. The move cut her utility bill in half.