20 Jan 2016, 00:00
Kerstine Appunn

Environment minister says Germany needs plan to exit coal

Germany needs a pathway for exiting coal by 2050 at the very latest, according to Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks. She welcomed Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel's announcement of a round table on the thorny issue, and said a national consensus would benefit coal regions and workers, and secure future power supply.

“We need a national coal consensus,” Hendricks said on Wednesday at business daily Handelsblatt’s annual energy conference. She said a round table on the future of coal, as suggested by Gabriel on Tuesday, was in accordance with this demand.  “We have to come together as intelligent beings who obviously will have different views, but who can still agree on a path for achieving a coal phase-out,” she said.

A consensus was necessary both to guarantee security of supply, and to respect the interests of workers and regions invested in the coal business, Hendricks said. She added it was secondary whether the last lignite-fired power plant went offline in 2045 or 2050, which was definitely the last possible exit year.“I may be the environment minister, but I am not some kind of green lunatic,” she exclaimed.

Hendricks explicitly welcomed the proposals for such a process by think tank Agora Energiewende* as a helpful basis for discussion. Unlike Energy and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, she said it was necessary to lay out a plan on how a coal exit could be managed in a socially acceptable way.

Gabriel had said he wanted talks on the issue, but suggested he was sceptical of "masterplans", which were "often determined by ideology".

Hendricks - Nobody wants to phase out nuclear and coal simultaneously

Nobody was planning to phase-out coal and nuclear power simultaneously, Hendricks said, reacting to criticisms both could not be phased out at the same time.  She said nuclear power production would end in 2022 and coal power would be needed as a bridging technology in the years to follow, but had to be phased out  by 2050 at the latest.

The government aims to pass a Climate Protection Plan 2050 by mid-2016. It should provide a "solid basis for decarbonising the economy”, according to the environment ministry. Many climate activists and some government officials say it should contain details on how Germany will phase-out coal, particularly since the country is set to miss its climate targets for 2020. But industry representatives have called for the plan to be dropped. Germany aims to reduce emissions from the power sector by 80-95 percent by the middle of the century, which most experts say implies a total exit from coal.

Hendricks also said that Germany’s security of supply would still be guaranteed at a share of 70 percent renewables in power consumption without large electricity storage facilities. In order to decarbonise the German industry sector, carbon capture and storage – so far not an option in Germany – could be used by the steel industry in the future, she said.

*Like the Clean Energy Wire, Agora Energiewende is a project funded by Stiftung Mercator and the European Climate Foundation.

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