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31 Jan 2019, 13:30
Sören Amelang Kerstine Appunn Sven Egenter Luke Sherman Benjamin Wehrmann Julian Wettengel

Commission watch – Managing Germany’s coal phase-out

Open pit lignite mine in Hambach, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: CLEW
Open pit lignite mine in Hambach, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: CLEW

In a bid to improve Germany's poor emission reduction record and to identify economic perspectives for people employed in the waning coal industry, the grand coalition government in 2018 set up a commission tasked with managing the definite phase-out of coal-fired power production in the country. Representatives from the government, civil society, business, and labour unions had met for months to debate and provide advice on the planned exit from coal extraction and combustion. CLEW’s commission watch traces the progress and public perception of this endeavour. [UPDATES NGO criticism of coal exit timetable]

  • The commission agreed on a final report that proposes to end coal-fired power production by 2038 or earlier.
  • 12.5 GW of coal capacity to be decomissioned by 2022; more than 25 GW by 2030.
  • Coal exit roadmap shall be reviewed repeatedly in 2020s.
  • Coal mining regions to receive dozens of billions of euros for structural adjustment.

Find further details and analysis in the factsheets on the Coal exit commission's final report, Germany’s coal exit commission and Germany's three lignite regions.

To stay abreast of the most recent developments, also read our daily News Digest and follow us on twitter @cleanenergywire.

 

31 January

Climate activists in coal commission say proposed exit path violates Paris targets

Climate activist members of Germany’s coal exit commission have said the task force’s phase out plan violates international climate targets. “Neither the planned final exit date 2038 nor the vague path until 2030 are sufficient for an adequate contribution to climate protection from the energy sector,” read a declaration by the commission members Martin Kaiser (Greenpeace), Kai Niebert (umbrella NGO DNR), Hubert Weiger (Friends of the Earth Germany, BUND) and Antje Grothus (Climate-Alliance Germany).

Ahead of meeting with Merkel: Saxony state premier expects timetable for mining region support

Coal state Saxony’s premier, Michael Kretschmer (CDU), expects decisions on a timetable for mining region support from today’s (31 January) meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, several of her cabinet members and the heads of the coal exit commission, he told Deutschlandfunk (Dlf) in a radio interview.

Municipal shareholders tell RWE to take hard line in coal compensation talks

Municipal shareholders in RWE have called on Germany’s biggest power producer to drive a hard bargain in talks with the government over compensation for a planned phase-out of coal-fired power plants, news agency Reuters reports.

29 January

Tough talks ahead

Politicians and media commentators expect difficult negotiations within the government, among lawmakers and with coal power plant operators over the coming months. Key issues will be the financing of mining region support, and compensation to plant operators, as well as renewables expansion that accompanies the coal phase out.

Even with the coal exit proposal, Germany's energy transition is a "work in progress at best", writes the Financial Times.

28 January

German government stands ready to move on coal exit proposal

The German government is ready to quickly supply financial means for the country’s exit from coal, said economy and energy minister Peter Altmaier. It will now examine the details of the proposal agreed by the country’s coal exit commission in order to set the law-making process in motion. While the deal, which recommends to end coal-fired power generation by 2038 at the latest, was overall welcomed as a good compromise for climate action, supply security and jobs, environmental NGOs criticised the phase out as too slow and others warned of job losses and high costs for mining region support. Following last week’s talks over dinner, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has invited affected state premiers for a second meeting this week to discuss a timetable for lignite mining region support. Environment minister Svenja Schulze said turning the proposal into government action “will surely not be a cakewalk”.

26 January

Commission agrees on coal exit by 2038 after final negotiation round lasting more than 20 hours

The coal exit commission has agreed to propose and end to coal-fired power production in Germany by 2038 or possibly even earlier. In a final round of negotiations that lasted for about 21 hours, delegates settled the last open questions and almost unanimously adopted a final report [see CLEW factsheet] that outlines how the phase-out can be implemented to reduce emissions in line with climate targets while at the same time preserving supply security, affordable power prices and providing mining regions with an economic perspective. 

In a first step, Germany should switch off 12.5 gigawatts (GW) of capacity by 2022 and more than 25 GW by 2030. Overall, media estimated that affected regions should get some 40 billion euros in support over the next 20 years.

The agreement is well-received by Germany's climate and energy experts. However, the say that the coal exit's real work only starts now and call on the government to fully implement the advisory commission report.

25 January

Germany’s coal exit talks in final round

Germany’s coal exit commission holds what could be its decisive meeting on Friday (25 January). In crucial last-minute talks, the commission must agree on a timetable to phase out the climate-damaging fossil fuel for electricity production within around two decades. The task force still has to work out an end date for coal and agree on the order in which plants are shut down, following earlier agreements to compensate affected companies and mining regions.

24 January

German coal exit commission draft report

The final report of Germany's coal exit commission sets out a pathway for the country to phase out the fossil power source and make progress on its poor emissions reduction record. A leaked draft of the report that is due at the beginning of February shows the results that negotiation delegations from industry, environmental NGOs, civil society and policymakers have achieved in talks lasting for more than half a year - even though it does not yet contain crucial dates for the phase-out's schedule.

23 January

German coal exit timetable to be settled in last minute talks

Germany’s detailed coal exit path and the end-date to coal-fired power generation remain unknown only days before a highly anticipated phase-out proposal is due to be published. A leaked draft of the final report of the country’s coal commission seen by the Clean Energy Wire suggests agreements on compensation for coal plant operators, support for affected mining regions, and measures to shield consumers from rising power prices. The draft also refers to Germany’s 2030 emission reduction targets for the energy sector as a guideline for the exit in accordance with its mandate. But the most pressing details from a climate perspective still need to be thrashed out during a marathon session scheduled for Friday 25 January: How many coal-fired power plants will go offline in the near future, and when will the last one be switched off?

Industry leaders say can cope with coal exit in debate ahead of commission report

Power prices are less of a concern for some industry sectors and coal-heavyweight RWE has long been about “much more than coal” – industry representatives offered an unusual take on the German coal exit debate in a panel discussion ahead of the coal commission’s final report. Green Party co-leader Annalena Baerbock conceded that a review of the coal exit process could be warranted in the next years but insisted that the “basic framework” for phasing out the fossil power source remains untouched.

22 January

German energy minister says half of country's coal capacity will still run in 2030

German energy and economy minister Peter Altmaier said that he did not want to pre-empt the results of the impending final report by Germany’s coal exit commission, which is due on 1 February. However, he stressed that since Germany will phase out nuclear power by the end of 2022, the end of coal “will take a longer time”. “By 2030, we’ll certainly still have about half of today’s capacity,” Altmaier said, reiterating an earlier proposal that the coal phase-out would have to be reviewed around that year.

German industry demands compensation if coal exit pushes up power price

A state-driven closure of coal-fired power plants over the next 12 years would lead to higher power prices, which consumers have to be compensated for, say industry associations the Federation of German Industries (BDI), the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) and the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA) in a press release. Compensation is a “mandatory precondition” for their consent to a coal exit deal, the press release says.

21 January

Resistance against energy minister's proposal to review coal exit by 2030

A proposal by energy minister Peter Altmaier to review Germany's forthcoming coal exit strategy by 2030 to ensure power supply security is rejected by environmental NGO Greenpeace. “By 2030, the coal exit has to be completed, not reviewed,” Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace Germany said.

17 January

Media commentators worry about coal exit costs following govt support pledge

New financial pledges by the government to support mining regions make media commentators worry about the ballooning costs of the coal exit. In addition to structural funds, numerous gas power plants will have to be built, plant operators will receive compensation worth billions, and electricity prices will rise as generation capacity falls, affecting industry and employment, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In the absence of average taxpayer advocates, most interest groups present in the commission (coal regions, environmentalists and plant operators) have unwittingly formed an alliance in favour of generous compensation payments, according to a Tagesspiegel commentary.

No progress on details of phase-out plan - media reports

Compromise over a phase-out path remains a challenge for the commission, according to media reports. Environmental NGOs would like 10 gigawatts (GW) of generation capacity taken off line by 2022, but utilities and industry say a maximum of 5 to 7 GW is more realistic. Stark disagreements over compensation payments to plant operators also remain.

Energy-intensive industries call for energy transition cost “super cap”

Germany’s energy-intensive industries call for an energy transition cost “super cap,” according to a media report. Lobby group WVMetalle (the industry federation for metal-processing companies) said the end of coal in Germany could result in the merit-order effect favouring power generation by natural gas plants, increasing wholesale power prices by up to 50 percent and potentially forcing companies with high electricity consumption to relocate abroad. The Federation of German Industries (BDI) has made similar demands, and wants power price caps included in the country’s coal exit commission’s final report, media report.

16 January

Govt support pledge for mining regions puts coal commission on home stretch

The German government has pledged long-term payments to lignite mining regions, removing a major hurdle to reaching a compromise over the country’s coal exit. After a 15 January meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, premiers of the coal states said a deal from the coal exit commission, due by 1 February, is now possible, but key issues including supply security and power prices must be resolved first. NGOs insisted a rapid coal exit must also be central to any agreement.

Lusatia to suffer most from quick coal exit – report

While the German economy as a whole would hardly suffer from phasing out lignite, coal regions in the Rhineland, central Germany and especially Lusatia in the east of Germany, are likely to see rising unemployment and people moving away, according to scenario calculations by the Leibniz-Institut for Economic Research in Halle (IWH).

14 January

North Rhine-Westphalia govt “expects double-digit billion euro” support for coal exit

Andreas Pinkwart, economy minister for Germany’s industrial powerhouse North Rhine-Westphalia, has said his state government “expects a double-digit billion euro amount for structural change and infrastructure over the next decades,” reports news agency Reuters.

9 January

Coal mining state premier says Germany will exit coal in 2030s

Germany’s coal commission will agree on a phase-out within around 20 years, according to Armin Laschet, premier of the western coal mining state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). “The coal exit will take place in the 2030s,” Laschet told business leaders.

7 January

Merkel intervenes in stagnating German coal exit talks

Chancellor Merkel will personally weigh in on stagnating commission negotiations. In a letter from the German Chancellery, Merkel said she will meet the premiers of Germany’s four lignite mining states as well as the heads of the country’s so-called coal exit commission on 15 January to discuss “the state of affairs and the future process” of brokering a socially acceptable and technologically feasible end to coal power in Germany. 

21 December

Germany bids farewell to domestic hard coal mining

The mining of hard coal officially comes to an end in Germany. The closing of the last mine in the Ruhr region marks the end of 200 years of mining the fossil fuel that made Germany’s industrialisation possible. The reason for shutting the last hard coal mines is purely economic and was already taken in 2007.

11 December

Last commission meeting scheduled for 1 February 2019

After cancelling a meeting scheduled for 10 December, the commission will meet again on 25 January 2019 and plans to hold its last meeting on 1 February, comission sources told Clean Energy Wire. Discussions in the working groups will continue in the meantime, the source added.

10 December

Germany drops in NGO climate action ranking due to lack of coal strategy

Several NGOs downgrade Germany in a joint Climate Change Performance Index 2019 because of the country's lacking policy strategies regarding coal and transport emissions. “It is unacceptable that the decision of Germany’s coal exit commission has again delayed the release of a strong phase out plan for the country,” said Stephan Singer, Senior Advisor Global Energy Policies at Climate Action Network, at a press conference. “In absolute terms, Germany is the biggest emitter in the EU as regards to coal,” he added.

1 December

Thousands march in Germany to demand quick exit from coal

Thousands of people marched on 1 December in Berlin and Cologne to demand that Germany speed up its exit from coal-fired power plants, a day before the opening of a U.N. climate summit in neighbouring Poland.

30 November

“We’re not going to Katowice empty-handed” – environment minister

Despite the extension of the work of Germany’s coal exit commission, the country’s delegation will not go to Katowice empty-handed, said environment minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) during a plenary debate in the federal parliament (Bundestag). “The fact that such a commission exists at all, that we succeed in bringing together civil society organisations and representatives of science, business, and trade unions, all around one table in order to work together on solutions, is exactly the right signal,” said Schulze. “And if we need a little longer for that, then we just need a little longer.”

State will have to spend “several billions of euros” to support coal regions – finance minister

German finance minister Olaf Scholz said it is “perfectly clear” that the German government will have to invest much more money to support coal regions than the 1.5 billion euros earmarked so far in the current budget, writes the Tagesspiegel. "We will have to spend several billions more over the next 20 years,” said Scholz, calling for specific post-coal plans for the affected regions. “In my view we have to be specific: let’s build this road, that railway, an industrial park here,” said the Social Democrat in Berlin. Scholz did not comment on possible compensation payments for coal power plant operators, writes the Tagesspiegel.

28 November

Just transition in Germany could help counter populism - state sec

If Germany manages its coal exit in a socially fair way, this will not only prevent the success of populists in the country, says Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary in the German environment ministry. It could serve as a model for other states like Saudi Arabia and Russia, which face similar or even bigger upheavals due to the global transition to a decarbonised economy. The Clean Energy Wire spoke with the Social Democrat about how Germany's lagging progress at home influences its role as a leader in international climate action.

26 November

Germany's coal exit commission extends work to 2019

The coal commission has decided to extend its work beyond the original end-of-2018 deadline, and set up a working group to prepare further detailed proposals on how to support lignite mining regions. Commission sources told the Clean Energy Wire that questions regarding how to finance the phase-out of the fossil fuel needed to be solved before the task force would go back to discussing energy and climate issues.

The commission can conclude its work soon if the country’s finance minister puts enough money on the table, the head of the mining and energy company RWE, Rolf Martin Schmitz, said at the annual conference of the German energy agency dena when asked whether he believed the commission would finish by year-end.

The members of the commission are “willing to work together constructively to find solutions”, but the conditions are “chaotic,” said Kai Niebert, president of the environmental umbrella NGO DNR at a panel discussion in Berlin.

21 November

German government plans to postpone deadline after eastern coal states' protest

The German government extends the commission's deadline from the end of December 2018 to January 2019, following complaints by the country's eastern coal mining states that their interests concerning structural economic change in mining regions have not yet been adequately accounted for. According to commission sources, many commission members will not accept any further delay.

Environment minister Svenja Schulze says if the coal exit commission succeeds in managing a largely frictionless coal phase-out, this could made the task force a "societal innovation" that could be emulated in other countries around the world.

20 November

Commission member warns against "lost year for climate protection"

In an interview with the Clean Energy Wire, coal commission member Reiner Priggen says a failure of the coal exit commission to find an agreement on the process of Germany's coal phase-out would mean "a lost year for climate protection in Germany." However, Priggen says he is confident that such an agreement can be found soon.

19 November

Eastern coal states demand up to 60 billion euros for coping with coal exit

Saxony-Anhalt's conservative (CDU) state premier, Reiner Haseloff, and his fellow CDU state premier from Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, criticise the draft proposal produced by the coal commission for not putting enough emphasis on the economic consequences for mining regions. “We don’t need 1.5 billion but 60 billion euros,” Haseloff says with respect financial provisions reserved for the coal regions in the commission's draft.

16 November

German commission draft suggests coal exit with compensation

Commission members have debated a first draft that outlines how the country could start the phase-out the fossil power source in the coming years. According to a leaked draft, plant operators could receive compensation payments for shutting down capacity while power customers and energy-intensive industries should be shielded from drastic price increases. The commission suggests some form of carbon price scheme for sectors such as transport or heating. The draft does not contain any detailed numbers and dates yet. After two days of meetings, the four task force heads said the commission intends to be done by 28 November.

15 November

14 billion euros for Germany’s lignite mining regions since 2013 / Power-to-x for mining regions

Lignite mining regions in Germany received at least 13.8 billion euros in state support between 2013 and 2017 to help them cope with the challenges of structural economic change, the German government says in an answer to a parliamentary inquiry initiated by the Green Party.

Large-scale renewable power production and the development of storage technology, both with power-to-x systems and batteries, can provide viable economic prospects for Germany’s coal mining regions as the fossil fuel is gradually phased out, a study commissioned by the economy ministry (BMWi) has found.

In an interview with public broadcaster ARD conducted, mining union IG BCE head Michael Vassiliadis says “we want to reduce coal. It is not really about the 'if' but rather about the 'how'.” Germany only accounted for 2 percent of global CO₂ emissions, and thus could “with a clear conscience take a few years to rebuild the energy system and not sin against the world.” Vassiliadis says that the end-date for coal depends on the expansion path Germany takes regarding renewables until 2030. The sooner the Federal Government delivers on the goals it has set itself, the sooner Germany would phase out coal. “Now, we are looking at the 40s. If the homework is done on grid extension and renewables, it will be in the 30s.” In the same interview, Friends of the Earth Germany head Hubert Weiger says if the coal commission does not find an agreement, “there will be no corresponding structural support measures in the regions concerned. And then all sides will have gained nothing.”

14 November

New govt report on climate ups pressure on Germany’s coal commission

A new government report detailing Germany’s failure to cut emissions increases pressure on the coal commission to agree on a speedy phase-out plan. Work in the commission enters a critical stage for climate protection on 15 and 16 November as its members focus on a concrete proposal on how to exit from energy generation based on this particularly climate-damaging fuel. Meanwhile, an international partnership of climate research organisations and NGOs has given Germany’s climate policy a mixed rating.

13 November

Econ Min Altmaier announces ambitious target for European battery cell production

Germany’s economy and energy minister, Peter Altmaier, has announced the target of covering 30 percent of global battery cell demand with production “in Germany and Europe” by 2030 to make the continent more independent from Asian imports. He said the location of battery cell factories was also a topic for Germany's coal exit commission.

9 November

Environmental NGOs propose to retire 16 GW of coal capacity by 2022

The environmental NGOs participating in Germany’s coal exit commission have proposed to take around 16 gigawatt (GW) of coal power capacity off grid by 2022, reports newswire dpa in an article carried by Die Welt. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) and umbrella organisation DNR argue in the leaked paper that 7.5 GW of lignite capacity should be transferred into Germany’s security reserve by 2020, and that 8.6 GW of old hard coal capacity should be retired by 2022.

25 October

Coal commission agrees on post-coal strategy for German mining regions

Members of Germany's coal exit commission have unanimously adopted the first major policy recommendations for the country's lignite mining regions affected by a future coal power phase-out. At an on-site meeting in the Rhenish lignite mining region earlier this week, the taskforce prepared an interim report on how to cushion the effects of ending coal-fired power generation in the three remaining mining regions. While energy companies warned that an accelerated coal exit could endanger supply security, workers unions ver.di and IG BCE organised a protest for industry jobs and “an energy transition with reason” on the sidelines of the talks.

19 October

Mining regions should be handled with care in face of political instability – state premiers

Speaking at a joint press conference with the heads of Germany’s three major lignite-producing states, Saxony-Anhalt’s state premier Reiner Haseloff (CDU) said that while it was undeniable that climate targets have to be achieved, it was the obligation of 82 million Germans to do so and “not only those in the coal mining regions”. He warned that the mining regions could become politically unstable since they were going to experience a second structural breakdown of industry and jobs after reunification. The working lignite mines are located in the former East Germany, in the Central German mining district located in the states of Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony and the Lusatia region that extends from Saxony to Brandenburg. Instead of targeting the same people again, emission reduction policies should focus on the transport and heating sectors where much less CO2 has been saved till date, Haseloff added. Brandenburg state premier Dietmar Woidke (SPD) said that “people in the coal regions mustn’t get the impression that those in power take away their jobs and future”. Michael Kretschmer (CDU), state premier in Saxony, added that a reliable and long-term time frame was going to be needed to ensure that new businesses could settle in Lusatia. A federal law had to provide financial and planning security independent of changing governments in the future. The three state premiers also reiterated their estimate of 60 billion euros needed to build up new jobs and infrastructure in the coal regions after the phase-out.

12 October

Unconfirmed draft report outlines investment plans for coal regions

Germany’s coal commission wants to ease the coal exit by granting lignite mining regions preferential treatment in infrastructure and innovation projects, according to a leaked draft report.

11 October

NRW state econ min proposes coal power budgets instead of phase-out date

The economy minister in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Andreas Pinkwart, proposes to allocate coal power plants a certain amount of electricity they are allowed to produce before they have to shut down instead of deciding a set date for Germany’s coal exit, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

9 October

RWE considers reducing coal extraction in mine bordering on Hambach Forest

The ruling by a German court to stop the clearing of the embattled Hambach Forest has prompted energy company RWE to consider reducing coal extraction at its nearby lignite mine by up to one third, Claus Hecking and Stefan Schultz write on Spiegel Online. The company has so far  mined about 40 million tonnes of lignite per year at the Hambach mine but may  lower the output by 10 to 15 million tonnes or 25 to 38 percent, the article says.

5 October

Court rules clearing operations at Hambach Forest have to be stopped

Clearing operations at the embattled Hambach Forest to make way for a coal mine have to be halted to decide whether the forest is protected by EU environmental rules, a German court decides. The court also said that RWE did not provide sufficient arguments for the urgency of continuing clearing operations. Reviewing the documents provided by both factions will at least take several weeks and is likely to delay the nearby coal mine's expansion by at least one year, website Spiegel Online reports

28 September

RWE says Hambach Forest cannot be saved

In an interview with Handelsblatt, Rolf Martin Schmitz, boss of energy company RWE, says he will push on with the destruction of an ancient forest. Schmitz also said: “We are ready to abandon coal,” he says. But the process must be orderly and conducted over an extended period, while events in the Hambach Forest should not distract from RWE’s massive contribution to Germany’s overall energy revolution, he adds. As of now, RWE can legally continue to use brown coal until 2045, but it was willing to discuss alternative solutions with the coal commission, Mr. Schmitz says. However, he refused to name a concrete date, saying the company had complicated legal obligations, and precise dates had to be agreed within that framework. The chief executive would not be drawn on whether the company would seek compensation if a faster timetable were imposed.

A study by research institute Fraunhofer commissioned by Greenpeace says that the Hambach Forest could be saved if Germany decided to quickly phase-out its dirtiest coal plants. This would also allow the country to reach its 2020 and 2030 climate targets, it adds.

Germany's economy and energy minister, Peter Altmaier, says a federal law that ensures affected coal regions receive support regardless of the position of future governments would be "a very reasonable idea." Altmaier told public broadcaster MDR says he backs a similar idea by Saxony's state premier Michael Kretschmer and that he is optimistic that regions like Lusatia in eastern Germany could become "prospering boom regions" in the future.

24 September

Coal commission meets in Central German mining district

Members of the coal exit commission met in the central German mining district in Saxony-Anhalt on 24 September. The visit “was important in order to discuss the special features of the region”, said the four chairs in a statement released after the meeting. The members debated the regional topics with input from local employers, politicians, NGO representatives and other stakeholders. The next meetings will take place in the Lusatia lignite mining region on 11 October, and then in Berlin on 12 October.
Saxony-Anhalt’s state premier Reiner Haseloff (CDU) reminded the commission members that it shouldn’t take the second step before the first. “The regions affected by structural change must first be shown realistic prospects for the future. Only then steps can be taken to reduce coal-fired power generation.” Experience with the end of hard coal mining in Germany had shown “that industry and the public sector will have to spend at least 60 billion euros to create jobs and infrastructure measures in the regions affected by the decline in coal-fired power generation”.

21 September

Saving Hambach Forest would cost billions of euros – RWE head

Not cutting down the embattled Hambach Forest would cost four to five billion euros, Rolf Martin Schmitz, head of energy company RWE, which wants to clear the forest to expand a nearby lignite mine, said  in the political talk show Maybrit Illner on public TV station ZDF. “The assumption that the forest can be saved is an illusion,” said Schmitz. It had to go because the land was needed to stabilise the embankments at the edge of the pit mine. If the forest remained standing, RWE would have to collect “huge amounts” of soil from other areas at great cost, said Schmitz. The Hambach Forest is “really just a symbol” and “this piece of forest cannot be saved.”

20 September

Clearing of anti-coal activist camps halted after journalist falls to death

The government of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) has stopped the clearing of anti-coal activist camps in Hambach Forest “until further notice” after a journalist fell to his death. “We cannot simply return to business as usual,” said NRW interior minister Herbert Reul. According to the police, a journalist broke through a suspension bridge between two trees and fell 15 metres. He later died from his injuries. There was no police operation ongoing near the scene of the accident, according to a police statement.

18 September

Germany’s coal commission insists no decision yet on exit date

The country’s coal exit commission said there were no predetermined decisions regarding a date for the end to coal-fired power generation. Following irritation about reports of a supposed compromise on a 2038 end date, economy minister Peter Altmaier used the task force’s fifth meeting to reassure members that the government would not interfere. A government advisor told the commission that the total amount of CO₂ emitted by Germany's coal fired power plants over the coming years is far more important than when the last plant goes offline.

In an interview with German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, miners’ union IG BCE head Michael Vassiliadis said that he could not “make sense” of the proposal the Spiegel reported, because “it doesn’t go with anything we’ve discussed in the commission so far.” He said that Germany will have a step-by-step reduction of coal-fired power generation and the speed also depends on the permit durations for the individual plants. Regarding the 2016 decision by the state government in North Rhine-Westphalia to honour existing permits allowing mining until 2045, Vassiliadis said that operators would let the most modern plants run into the 2040s “if we need the power then. If we don’t need the power, they are going to be pushed out of the market, anyways”. The decisive factor in when coal would be pushed out of the market is renewables expansion, he said.
On the embattled Hambach Forest, which the RWE wants to cut down to expand a lignite mine, Vassiliadis said he understood the protest, but also that “RWE is not willing to simply shut down its energy generation capacities because of the protests, without any compensation or view to the future”.

16 September

Media report about coal exit proposal causes irritation

A report about a proposal by one of Germany’s coal commission co-heads for a coal exit by 2038 has caused irritation. Co-chair Ronald Pofalla also proposes taking 5-7 gigawatts of coal capacity off-line and into a security reserve by 2020, and revisiting the exit path by 2027, according to a report in magazine Der Spiegel. Some commission members are quick to reject the report and warn that the commission's work was in peril should individual members rush ahead. Commission member Christine Herntier, mayor of a twon in the affected lignite mining area of Lusatia, says the media report raises fundamental questions about the procedures of the commission, which she will raise at the meeting on 18 September. Meanwhile, thousands of protesters march at Hambach Forest, scheduled to be cleared to make room for lignite mining, after police has started to remove protest camps from the site.

14 September

Eviction of anti-coal activists in Hambach Forest divides commission

After police start moving into the Hambach Forest to throw out anti-coal activists, the commission is divided into camps approving of and condemning the move initiated by energy company RWE. Commission member Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace warns that the crackdown on activists "puts a massive burden on the so far trustful cooperation" in the commission. Fellow commission member Eric Schweitzer of industry lobby grou DIHK, on the other hand, says energy company RWE had every right to proceed with mine expansion, as courts had given the green light. “It’s merely upholding the rule of law if RWE continues mining operations.”

Commentators warn that RWE risks a PR disaster ahead of the coal commission's next meeting on 18 September. Journalist Michael Bauchmüller of the Süddeutsche Zeitung says that while the company may be legally entitled to pursue mine expansion, the conditions that gave RWE this right have changed substantially. Stefan Schultz of news website Spiegel Online comments that environmental groups should not get distracted by the Hambach row and instead focus on achieving a quick coal exit in the commission.

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12 September

Govt adviser says EU ETS price hike could quickly reduce coal capacity

Should the current prices for EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) allowances remain high, about half of Germany’s coal-fired power generation capacity could be closed on economic grounds alone by 2030, economist Andreas Löschel tells Montel News. However, “even with half of the [coal] capacities phased out, there is still a gap” to reaching the energy sector’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 61-62 percent by that year, Löschel says.

“The coal commission is pretty much fixed on a regulated phase-out,” Löschel adds. “If this is not accompanied by [CO₂] price signals, this is not going to do the job.” According to the expert, closing coal plants according to a timetable – much like the country’s planned exit from nuclear power by 2022 – would probably increase operating hours for those presently underutilised coal plants allowed to remain in the market, which would keep German emissions elevated, Löschel says.

4 September

Coal commission to discuss impact of rising CO₂ price – report

The German coal exit commission will debate the impact of the rising price for EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) allowances in its upcoming meeting on 18 September, report Claus Hecking and Stefan Schultz in a lead story on Spiegel Online. Volatile prices for CO₂ mean that a plan to phase out coal in Germany, which the coal commission wants to present by the end of 2018, could already be outdated by the time it is decided, write Hecking and Schultz.

31 August

Federal energy minister encourages talks on coal mine expansion, NRW state premier rejects them

Germany's federal economy and energy minister, Peter Altmaier, encourages the rival factions in the row over the clearing of the Hambach Forest to make way for a lignite mine to strive towards finding a mutually acceptable solution. This could only be done "through negotiations and talks, and not in public debates," he says.

However, Altmaier's fellow CDU politician Armin Laschet, state premier in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), where the Hambach mine is located, rejects renewed talks over the mine's expansion or a moratorium for expansion works. Laschet says the case had already been decided in court and neither NRW's government nor the state parliament intended to change it. 

Environment minister Svenja Schulze (SPD), on the other hand, reiterated her call for a standstill agreement for the Hambach mine until the coal commission has finished its work. Mining labour union IG BCE previously criticised the minister for conflating the commission's long-term coal exit mandate with energy company RWE's current business activities in the Hambach mine.

RWE says it is being "blackmailed" by anti-coal activists holding out in the embattled forest by using the country’s coal exit commission as a vehicle for their own particular agenda.

Meanwhile, a report in energy policy newsletter Tagesspiegel Background says that many members of the coal exit commission are sceptical that the ambitious schedule that stipulates finding an end date for coal by December can be kept. Staying on schedule was "absolutely impossible," some commission members told Tagesspiegel, while others were more optimistic.

29 August

4th meeting “very constructive, despite differing views”

The fourth meeting of the coal commission saw “very constructive exchanges, despite differing views”, the four chairs wrote in a statement. The members discussed employment and value added in energy generation in Germany’s lignite mining regions with guest speakers Markus Krebber (Chief Financial Officer RWE AG), Armin Eichholz (Chairman of the Board MIBRAG), and Helmar Rendez (Head of the Management Board LEAG). The commission also talked about supply security, with expert guests from the federal economy ministry (BMWi), the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA), transmission grid operators and the European Commission. The next meeting will be held on 18 September.

28 August

Row over embattled forest continues to burden commission

The internal dispute over the expansion of a lignite mine and the clearing of a nearby forest continues to weigh on the commission's work ahead of its fourth meeting, despite a decision by the group's leadership to not touch take part in the row. After protests in the Hambach Forest escalated over the weekend, several environmental groups, energy company RWE and environment minister Svenja Schulze condemn the violence, but remain split over how to proceed. Schulze and the environmental groups continue to call for a moratorium for coal mine expansion until the commission has finished its work while RWE insists it needs to start clearing the forest now to ensure an uninterrupted coal supply for its power plants.

24 August

Commission stays out of mine dispute, minister calls on RWE to wait with forest clearing

Germany's environment minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) calls on RWE to abstain from clearing any forest until the commission has finished its work. "When a societal consensus is being organised, we cannot create faits accomplis in such a phase," she says according to report on the website of Germany's public broadcaster ARD. "That would be as unacceptable as if we just enpassant decided to shut down a power plant during those talks." RWE reacts with surprised about the remarks, according to the report, pointing to the commission's statement and the fact that they had told the minister before that the clearing was necessary to secure lignite supply from the Hambach mine in the short run.

The coal commission makes clear that it will not intervene in the ongoing dispute between some of its members and energy company RWE over the expansion of the Hambach lignite mine and the clearing of a nearby forest. The four chairs say the controversial issue is not part of the group’s mandate, a view supported by the majority of the commission's members. Ahead of the commission's 3rd meeting on 23 August, environmental group BUND said it might leave the commission if RWE does not halt its mine expansion activities until the group has finished its negotiations over a German coal exit.

In the meeting, the commission decides to suspend its working procedure in two separate task groups, one for “climate and energy economy” and one for “development and jobs” to turn back to debating in the general assembly, where the most fundamental questions can be discussed. It will convene again on 29 August, much earlier than initially planned.

22 August

Citizens' & environmental groups refresh call for coal moratorium

Several member groups of the coal exit commission have refreshed a call for a standstill agreement for lignite mine expansion in Germany until the country has decided on the fossil power source's future. The move coincides with an announcement by energy company RWE to resume preparatory work at the Hambach lignite mine, a symbolic battleground for climate activist groups from across Europe.

One day before the coal commission's third working session, the dispute about the Hambach mine is seen as potentially threatening the commission's stability. Environment minister Svenja Schulze urged all commission member groups to not further escalate the situation an "hold debates where they belong - within the commission."

21 August

Debate heats up ahead of next coal exit commission meeting

German energy company RWE rejects calls for a moratorium on forest clearing as part of lignite mining during negotiations within the coal commission, and said it would continue mining operations at the controversial Hambach mine. Environmental organisation WWF Germany sharply criticises RWE’s announcement, saying “no precedents should be created while the negotiations are still ongoing”. Commentators say that RWE’s announcement could easily upend the hope to find a compromise.

Energy-intensive firms fear higher power costs from an accelerated coal exit. A report commissioned by RWE, one of Germany's largest owners of lignite mines and coal-fired power generation, says that a mandated German coal exit by 2040 would shift power generation and related CO₂ emissions to neighbouring countries and lead to higher costs for electricity consumers. In a separate report, NGO WWF Germany and green power provider LichtBlick say that coal does not have a future in Germany’s energy transition. The German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) says that the surplus volume of secure power generation capacity will decline in the medium to long term throughout Europe.

A report by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) points to the key role of a coal phase out in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) for Germany’s climate goals.

20 August

Coal states’ energy ministers call for coal exit “stress test” to ensure supply security

On the eve of the coal exit commission’s next meeting on 23 August, the economy and energy ministers of the six affected coal states in Germany criticise the commission for failing to adequately consider supply security and the effects on power prices of an “early” coal exit. Led by North Rhine-Westphalia’s (NRW) economy and energy minister, Andreas Pinkwart, from the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), the six coal states say the stocktaking of energy system-related facts ahead of drafting a plan for ending coal-fired power production has been “inadequate.” They call for a “stress test” to ensure supply security, which they say should also factor in the repercussions in the neighbouring countries.

Pinkwart says that higher power prices are to be expected after a coal exit, which could damage energy-intensive industries and, as a consequence, could cost thousands of jobs across the county. Albrecht Gerber from Brandenburg says that the power grid and storage capacity must be modernised and ramped up quickly to enable the country to reduce coal-fired power production. Armin Willingman from Sachsen-Anhalt argues that the “impending structural economic change” in coal regions must be addressed “with vigour” to ensure proper support for industrial and research--related investments in the affected coal regions.

9 August

Government worried short-term coal plant closures will trigger compensation claims – report

The German government is concerned that short-term coal plant closures might lead to expensive compensation claims by operators, reports Klaus Stratmann in business daily Handelsblatt in a double-page article. A utility source said “we will see each other in court” if the government resorts to ordering short-term closures. Unnamed officials said the government was looking at operator Uniper’s proposal to transfer lignite plants into a security standby as one possible option for organising the phase-out.

7 August

Government stresses commission's independence

The German government emphasises that it will not actively take part in the coal commission's decision-making and stresses that it has been set up as an independent body that "works by its own rules," which include that meetings be held in close session. In an answer to a parliamentary inquiry by the Green Party, the government says a short-term shut-down of coal plants has not been included in the commission's mandate in order to "not anticipate its findings." However, the commission is tasked with finding short-term solutions for closing the gap to Germany's 2020 climate target, the government says.

3 August 

Employment minister Heil proposes plan for coal regions

Federal employment minister Hubertus Heil puts forward a six-point plan to soften the effect of a coal phase-out in the three lignite (brown coal) mining districts in Germany. There should be a special plan for road, rail, and digital infrastructure projects, and the federal government should negotiate support conditions with the EU since the "national effort" that is a coal exit is expected to benefit the European climate targets, Heil writes in a guest article for the WirtschaftsWoche.

The minister's plan includes the following six proposals:

  • Improving infrastructure in coal regions by cutting red tape and accelerating construction procedures.
  • Closely monitor local labour markets to find or train skilled personnel and set up research and training facilities.
  • Establish special financial support regulations for the regions with the EU as coal exit is political rather than economic decision.
  • Set up more federal or regional agencies, especially in eastern German coal regions.
  • Establish economic development agencies to improve local conditions and attract new business.
  • Contact German industry representatives and actively encourage them to open businesses there.

19 July

Working group on structural change and employment wants more money for lignite regions

Members of coal commission’s working group on development and jobs have agreed that the sum of 1.5 billion euros over three years that the federal government has allocated to help the economic transformation in the country’s lignite mining regions is by far too little, and that federal support should also be extended to cover the process over 15 to 20 years. The working group has also found that different, tailor-made solutions would have to be developed for the three remaining mining regions, and that Lusatia in eastern Germany was facing a more difficult task than the other areas, Tagesspiegel Background reported.

To inform their further decision making, the group has asked the federal government to identify federal administration or research facilities that could be moved to the mining areas to ensure future employment.

 

16 July

Working group on climate and energy split on CO2 reduction target

In their first (non-public) session, members of coal commission’s working group on climate and energy held opposing views about the CO2 reduction target that should be used as a benchmark for the commission’s work – and about the timeframe of a coal exit. While the environment lobby in the working group wants to see at least seven gigawatts of coal capacity retired by 2020 and the exit completed by 2030, the coal mining states would like to set the end date in accordance with current mining permissions, which would be around 2045. Representatives from utilities and trade unions support a coal phase-out by the late 2030s or early 2040s, according to a report by Tagesspiegel Background.

The climate group within the working group would like to see Germany’s carbon budget as calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and in accordance with the Paris Agreement used as a benchmark for the negotiations, but others argue that only Germany’s current climate target for 2030 in the energy sector (61-62% CO2 reduction compared to 1990) can serve as a goal for the commission. The members agreed to ask the government to clarify its emissions targets.

In its next session, the group plans to discuss whether a coal exit would endanger power supply security in Germany.

 

13 July

Coal commission members “create joint knowledge base”

Germany’s coal exit commission met on 13 July to “start to create a joint knowledge base about the tasks, framework conditions and structural policy challenges”, according to a press statement. To this end, the commission invited the following external experts to hold presentations:

  • Jochen Dehio and Torsten Schmidt (Rhineland-Westphalia Institute for Economic Research, RWI) on “structural policy framework data in the lignite regions”
  • Rüdiger Siebers (former central workers’ council of Vattenfall Europe Mining AG) on the “socio-economic significance of the structural economic change in lignite mining regions”
  • Ottmar Edenhofer (Designated Director and Chief Economist of Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, PIK) on “international, European and national climate policy framework conditions”
  • Michael Ritzau (consultancy Büro für Energiewirtschaft und Technische Planung, BET) on “facts and numbers about the coal industry”
  • Frank Sensfuß (Fraunhofer ISI) and Christoph Maurer (Consentec GmbH) on “introduction to the power market and supply security”

In a separate statement released after his presentation, Edenhofer said that Germany is no longer a climate pioneer and that countries such as the UK, France, Sweden and Austria are much more successful at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Germany has by far the highest CO₂ emissions from coal in the European Union – they are twice as high as in Poland,” he said. If CO₂ is not saved in “particularly emissions-intensive coal-fired power generation”, it would need to happen in other sectors, said Edenhofer. “Then industry, for example, would have to quickly deliver the necessary reductions, which would be significantly more difficult and expensive.” Edenhofer called for a floor price in the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) to avoid other countries emitting more when Germany exits coal.

12 July

In its first meeting, the commission agrees on a tight schedule for the rest of the year. Energy news outlet Energate Messenger publishes the commission's leaked timetable (find the article behind a paywall here), saying that the commission has decided to split itself up into two seperate working groups, one focussing on "energy economy and climate targets" and the other one on "economic development and jobs in the region." The groups are open to all members of the coal commission. The commission's plenary meetings are scheduled for 13 July, 23 August, 18 September, 11-12 October, 15-16 November and finally for 11 December, during the COP24 in Poland. The two subgroups will hold additional meetings between the plenary sessions, Energate says. See the CLEW Calendar for all dates.

9 July

Germany’s Federal Council of State Governments (Bundesrat) urges the government to fully consider the financial side of a coal phase-out in the coal commission’s talks. The council made up Germany’s 16 federal states, 6 of which are represented in the commission, says a separate accounting group should work on a plan to manage the coal regions’ assets.

The German government confirms that it expects the commission to deliver results in line with its schedule, which stipulates that an end date to coal-fired power production in Germany and short-term measures to reduce carbon emissions substantially be found by the end of the year. In an answer to a parliamentary inquiry by the Left Party, the government adds that it plans to implement policies that follow from the commission’s decision in 2019.

 

26 June

The coal commission convenes for the first time in Germany's economy and energy ministry (BMWi), with commission leaders afterwards saying the first talks were held in a positive and constructive atmosphere. Co-leader Matthias Platzeck says Germany's Energiewende project as a whole depends on the coal commission's success and that the country could prove to coal regions around the world how to manage a phase-out. Platzeck says the group would work throughout the summer months to ensure the ambitious timetable is upheld, adding that the next meeting is scheduled for 13 July.

Ahead of the inaugural meeting, politicians from coal states seek to ensure that the economic interests of the affected regions are adequately considered by the group. Michael Kretschmer and Armin Laschet, CDU premiers of the states of Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), respectively, say their planning for coal mining runs well into the 2040s, but stress that solutions by the commission that provide for supply security, low power prices, and economic prospects for the affected workers and regions could “find broad acceptance.”

Meanwhile, climate economist and coal commission co-leader Barbara Praetorius says that the group’s work would be guided by Germany’s 2030 climate targets. “The 2030 climate targets are set, they provide a starting point and a framework for the commission’s work.”

At a public appearance ahead of the commission’s first meeting, federal economy and energy minister Peter Altmaier says that Germany has a responsibility to demonstrate that economic prosperity and successful decarbonisation can be reconciled. The coal commission would help ensure that Germany “goes ahead in this field.”

 

25 June

One day before the commission’s first meeting, the economy ministers from Germany's most important coal states weigh in and warn against "hasty exit plans." The trio from Brandenburg, Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia say a grid agency (BNetzA) plan that contains an exit scenario before 2030 was politically motivated” and could “influence the debate within the commission at our expense” by making “unrealistic assumptions” about the power grid.

The CEO of Germany’s largest power producer and also its largest carbon emitter RWE, Rolf Martin Schmitz, says Germany will not be able to completely phase out coal by 2030. “Political gestures don’t produce electricity,” Schmitz says, arguing that ending the technology “prematurely” will come at a high cost.

Dieter Kempf, head of influential industry association BDI, says a “quick and symbolic” exit from coal-fired power production could hurt the economy. He advocates for making the commission “the entry into a sustainable agenda of modernisation.”

A study by Green Budget Germany (FÖS) commissioned by green power provider Greenpeace Energy says burning coal costs Germany 28 billion per year. Apart from the fossil power source’s electricity generation costs, the bulk of this price tag comes from costs to the environment and to public health, the study says.

18 June

At the opening of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin, environment minister Svenja Schulze tells more than 30 international ministers that modern climate policy should be guided by a socially just transition for all economic sectors. Samantha Smith from the International Trade Union Confederation contends that the coal-exit commission could serve as a model for other countries seeking to both mitigate carbon pollution and limit economic consequences in affected regions.

14 June

In an address to utility association BDEW’s annual conference, environment minister Svenja Schulze says that the recently-formed coal-exit commission should help close the gap to Germany’s 2020 emissions reduction goal. She adds that a failure to determine a clear phase-out of coal-fired power generation would put the country’s climate goals even further out of reach.

7 June

Green Party co-leader Annalena Baerbock criticises the narrow mandate of the coal commission, saying in an emailed statement that “the commission must not become an excuse for the government to no longer decide anything on climate protection.”

On the contrary, Federal German Association for Brown Coal (DEBRIV) Director Thorsten Diercks says that the newly formed commission “must not become a coal exit commission” and that continued domestic brown coal use is compatible with the EU 2030 climate target.   

6 June

The government officially launches the coal commission, officially titled the “Commission on Growth, Structural Economic Change and Employment”.

New financial pledges by the government to support mining regions make media commentators worry about the ballooning costs of the coal exit. In addition to structural funds, numerous gas power plants will have to be built, plant operators will receive compensation worth billions, and electricity prices will rise as generation capacity falls, affecting industry and employment, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In the absence of average taxpayer advocates, most interest groups present in the commission (coal regions, environmentalists and plant operators) have unwittingly formed an alliance in favour of generous compensation payments, according to a Tagesspiegel commentary.

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