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23 Sep 2022, 13:53
Benjamin Wehrmann

2030 coal exit unachievable, German state premier says ahead of vote dominated by energy crisis

WirtschaftsWoche

The energy crisis forces Germany to rapidly rearrange its energy policy plans and will make a faster coal phase-out by 2030 impossible, Stephan Weil, state premier of Lower Saxony, has said. In an interview with newspaper WirtschaftsWoche one week before the northern coastal state will vote for a new government, the incumbent Social Democrat (SPD) state leader said reactivating retired coal plants “gives me a bad conscience climate-wise”, but added that more coal-fired power production is currently needed for supply security. “A coal phase-out by 2030 unfortunately will not be achievable,” he argued.  Germany's official target is to phase out coal by 2038 at the very latest, but the country's coalition government wants to pull that date forward, "ideally" to 2030.

High energy prices and the future of Germany’s energy system would be dominating issues in the election on 9 October, Weil said, adding that “I’ve never seen citizens this sorrowful”. Skyrocketing energy prices are affecting almost everyone in the state and “nobody can seriously say when the war will be over or when prices start falling again”, he continued. Weil, whose state is home to Germany’s largest carmaker Volkswagen, warned that there is a downside to companies saving energy in the country. “De-industrialisation takes place in silence. Especially when companies with parents abroad throttle down production here and fire it up elsewhere,” he warned.

Lower Saxony is the country’s largest wind power producer and also owns some of Germany’s largest domestic fossil fuel reserves, mainly natural gas in both offshore and onshore deposits, which in the past decades has remained largely untouched due to high extraction costs and local resistance against extraction projects. The northern coastal state also plays a key role in the buildup of Germany’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) import infrastructure. Weil said resistance against energy infrastructure projects appeared to be retreating in light of the energy crisis. “Terminals and pipelines are not popular with everyone, but everyone has understood why they are needed,” he argued, adding that his government recently had enabled gas extraction off Lower Saxony’s North Sea coast. However, controversial onshore gas fracking would still remain anathema in the state for the foreseeable future, the SPD state premier said. Instead, the fast-tracking of licensing for an LNG terminal showed bureaucracy can be curbed if necessary and should serve as a template for faster renewable power expansion, he said.

The SPD is currently leading the polls in the state with 32 percent, ahead of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), with top candidate Bernd Althusmann on 28 percent. The two parties have been in a coalition since the last election, but the SPD hopes to be able to switch the CDU for the Green Party as coalition partner after the upcoming vote.

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