Germany agrees scaled-down CO2 capture law

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Germany’s grand coalition government has reportedly agreed to a scaled-down draft law on carbon dioxide storage after conservatives objected to some of the measures.

“We’ve reached an agreement,” a coalition source said to Reuters on Friday (9 June), referring to the carbon capture and storage (CCS) law. 

But sources said the agreement only allows for individual test sites rather than allowing a more comprehensive framework for CCS across Germany. 

The breakthrough was reached in a meeting of parliamentary floor leaders from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats – Volker Kauder and Peter Struck respectively – and Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel. On Wednesday, the conservatives said they planned to delay voting on the draft law on CCS amid concerns about it. 

The CCS law would pave the way for further developing technology aimed at cutting pollution from coal-burning power plants, by holding CO2 indefinitely in underground storage facilities. 

The coalition has spent months wrangling over rules to regulate the efforts of utilities such as E.ON, RWE and Vattenfall Europe to test and install the technology early enough for large-scale commercial use after 2020. 

Speedy progress of the law is needed to allow these firms to meet timetables for pilot plants ahead of full commercial production planned for 2020, and to ensure that CO2 taken from the plants can be piped into suitable stores by that date. 

Germany derives 50% of its power from coal but without CCS will not be able to keep this up in coming years, as stringent EU laws aimed at discouraging CO2 emissions set rising financial penalties on conventional coal burning. 

Meanwhile, Germany’s coal importers group VDKI, based in the port of Hamburg but close to the Rhein-Ruhr region’s heavy industries which it serves, is worried about the sustainability of coal burning amid public criticism of the carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution it causes. 

“We argue against this with the plans for higher energy efficiency rates at coal-fired power units and the hoped-for success in capturing and storing CO2 at power stations [in a tested, but not proven, process called CCS],” chairman of VDKI, Erich Schmitz said in a conference last week. 

German imports of hard coal from India, China and Indonesia are likely to fall 22% this year compared with 2008 to a total 37.3 million tonnes, the importers group VDKI said. 

If new building and CCS efforts were combined and successful, German coal generators may cut CO2 emissions to 96 million tonnes a year by 2015 versus 111 million in 2008, Schmitz said. 

Germany uses hard coal for 20-25% of its annual power generation, depending on demand and rival fuels. It mined 18.5 million tonnes of hard coal equivalent units last year but this may fall to 13-14 million tonnes in 2009 under long-term phase-out plans, according to the VDIK.

 Lignite, a cheaply mined domestic brown coal, continues to hold a stable share of another quarter of power supply. 

(EURACTIV with Reuters.

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