Germany’s new coal phase-out plan upsets country’s Coal Commission

According to calculations by the environmental associations, the now planned adjustment schedule would result in additional emissions of 40 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030. EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN [Clemens Bilan/ epa]

Shortly after Germany announced plans to shut down its lignite-fired power plants, eight members of the country’s Coal Commission voiced criticism that their work has been discredited and that these plans would result in an additional 40 million tons of CO2 emissions. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The eight members of the Commission, who represented environmental organisations, consider their coal-phase-out-plan, presented last year, to have been “de facto cancelled” by the government.

They said the timetable for shutting down lignite-fired power plants drawn up last week between the federal government and the affected states differs considerably from what the Coal Commission agreed after months of negotiations – although the government repeatedly emphasised its intention to stick to all the recommendations.

At a press conference of the eight Commission members, the president of the German League for Nature Conservation, Kai Niebert, said he could not believe the government had “accused” the coalition’s compromise, which had been laboriously balanced, “to feed the prime ministers of the federal states concerned”.

He said that the shutdown schedule would endanger social peace in Germany and that it discredited the Coal Commission’s work.

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40 million additional tons of CO2

The German government only plans to take 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of lignite capacity off the grid between 2023 and 2028. To ensure this is achieved, significantly more capacities are to be shut down in 2028 and 2029, to reach a total reduction of 2.8 GW by 2030, even though the Coal Commission had proposed an even more significant reduction of 3.1 GW.

In 2026 and 2029, according to the government, a review will be carried out to determine whether it would be possible to phase out coal three years earlier, i.e. in 2035. And the shutdown of the hard coal piles is to be specified in tenders.

But the random shutdown by 2030, envisaged in the government’s plan, would mean unnecessary burdens on the electricity system market and would be “climate policy madness”, according to Niebert.

According to calculations by the environmental associations, the new adjustment schedule would result in additional emissions of 40 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030.

Germany’s environment ministry defended the approach because of the parallel phase-out of nuclear power, stressing that the last nuclear power plant in Germany is to be taken off the grid in 2022.

The fact that no shutdown is planned between the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2025, therefore, has energy-economic reasons, said a ministry spokesperson.

In an interview on Deutschlandfunk radio, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) also defended the two-year shutdown gap and referred to the nuclear phase-out.

“If 9,000 megawatts of capacity is shut down and are no longer available to secure the electricity supply, then we must also see that the electricity industry can adapt. This is so that we can prepare and unlock the money for gas capacities that we need for the transition,” the minister said, adding that the gap shouldn’t be filled by importing coal or nuclear power from other countries.

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A new power plant to become operational

However, the decision to put the newly built Datteln 4 hard coal-fired power plant into operation right at the start of the shutdown phase also sends a “completely wrong signal”, according to Barbara Praetorius, the former chairwoman of the Coal Commission.

The federal cabinet had negotiated with the power plant operator Uniper that older and less efficient coal-fired power plants should be closed earlier or converted to gas in return for the new power plant to become operational.

Altmaier said today that the new power plant was in a very secure position due to court rulings, so this was the best solution. The same applied to the high compensation payments to the power plant operators. Altmaier added the aim was to prevent the shutdowns from otherwise “being declared illegal by the Federal Constitutional Court or other courts in a few years”.

The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) also criticised this procedure, saying that the federal government had opted for a “planned economy including compensation payments”, according to the climate policy spokesman of the FDP parliamentary group, Lukas Köhler.

Renewable energies are lacking

Experts believe the agreement between the federal and state governments is also questionable given the still stagnating expansion of renewable energies.

If the expansion of renewables could not keep pace with the sometimes abrupt shutdown of the coal-fired power plants, they would have to increase their output accordingly and thus produce more CO2.

Therefore, a clear expansion path towards the German goal of a 65% share of renewable energies in the country’s power mix by 2030 is absolutely necessary, Matthias Miersch, energy policy spokesman of the SPD parliamentary group, told journalists last week.

Wind energy, in particular, is currently undergoing an existential crisis in Germany.

The grand coalition is still divided over whether there should be a blanket distance regulation of 1,000 metres between wind turbines and housing areas. Miersch said an agreement on this had to be reached as quickly as possible, otherwise “we are walking with open eyes into a situation where it is not possible to phase out coal,” he added.

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Resistance from the opposition

In response to the environmental associations’ comments, SPD’s Miersch wrote that the coal compromise agreed on last week was “valuable” but that the government must now seek dialogue with the former coal commission.

That the coal phase-out law, he said, should be passed in parallel with the so-called Structural Reinforcement Bill. In it, the federal government had promised the coal regions €40 billion and far-reaching measures for economic restructuring in August. These two laws should form the legal basis for Germany’s coal phase-out.

But the plan is not yet set in stone. At the end of the month, the draft for the coal phase-out law is to be submitted to the Bundestag, where it could face fierce resistance, as the climate protection law did recently.

The Greens, for example, have already called on the federal government to rework its plan to phase out coal.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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