Europe has agreed to a cap on natural gas prices, following months of debate over whether the measure will protect European households and businesses from extreme price spikes as temperatures plummet.
In a Monday meeting, EU energy ministers agreed to trigger a cap on the price of month-ahead natural gas futures on the Dutch Title Transfer Facility (TTF) — the bloc’s benchmark gas exchange — to €180 ($191) per megawatt hour if it exceeds this level for more than three consecutive working days.
The cap will also apply to three-month and year-ahead gas trades, and it will remain active for at least 20 working days once triggered. It is planned to come into force as of February 15 of next year.
“We have the deal,” Jozef Síkela, deputy prime minister for the Czech Republic, said at a Monday press conference. The Czech Republic currently holds the presidency for the EU Council.
The price ceiling is much lower than the €275 ($292) per megawatt hour limit originally proposed by the European Commission last month.
The cap would also be triggered if prices hit at least €35 ($37) higher than a reference price for liquified natural gas (LNG) for the same period. Prices for LNG — a chilled, liquid form of gas that can be transported via sea tankers — are tightly linked to prices for Europe’s natural gas delivered by pipelines.
Síkela described the cap as a “temporary, effective [and] realistic mechanism which will protect citizens and businesses from the excessive gas prices we have seen this summer.”
“This is not a fixed cap, but rather a dynamic one,” he added.
The cap is the latest in a raft of measures agreed by the European Union this year to stem an energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that has pushed up prices and fueled the highest inflation in decades.
Gas prices spiked to a record high of around €345 ($367) per megawatt hour in August, after Moscow reduced gas deliveries to the continent. TTF gas futures fell back 5% on Monday to hit €107 ($114) per megawatt hour.
Despite Monday’s political agreement, analysts and traders remain concerned that the mechanism could backfire –— causing prices to rise and worsening potential supply shocks.
Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy and one of its largest importers of natural gas, had been the most notable holdout before Monday’s announcement.
“Gas traders would likely liquidate short positions and stop selling futures if they fear the break could be activated imminently, for fear of the resulting losses,” analysts at Eurasia Group said in a Monday note.
Following the announcement, a spokesperson for the Intercontinental Exchange, which operates the TTF, said that it had “consistently voiced our concerns about the destabilizing impact a [price cap] will have on the market.”
The spokesperson said the exchange was reviewing the details of the new proposal and “whether [it could] continue to operate fair and orderly markets for TTF from the Netherlands.”
Trading on the TTF will continue to operate as usual for the foreseeable future, they added.
In light of concerns, Síkela said that the cap could be “automatically deactivated” in several instances, including when gas consumption across the bloc is high, if trading on the TTF declines, or if quarterly imports of LNG fall.
The proposal still requires a “qualified majority” to be implemented, meaning that 15 countries representing at least 65% of Europe’s population must agree to it.