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28 Jan 2019, 11:36
Sören Amelang Sven Egenter Benjamin Wehrmann Julian Wettengel

German politicians and energy experts praise coal exit deal, say real work starts now

Coal commission leaders Pofalla, Platzeck, Praetorius & Tillich (left to right) with energy minister Altmaier (2nd from left). Photo - BMWi / Susanne Eriksson
Coal commission leaders Pofalla, Platzeck, Praetorius & Tillich (left to right) with energy minister Altmaier (2nd from left). Photo - BMWi / Susanne Eriksson

The agreement by Germany's coal exit commission to end the fossil power source's use by 2038 the latest is welcomed by the country's climate activists and energy industry representatives alike. They praise the final report that had been decided on in a final negotiation round lasting for more than 20 hours as a document that almost all relevant stakeholders can accept. However, obververs say that the real work of implementing the deal still lies ahead and call on the government to fully adopt the results of the advisory report on which dozens of climate and energy experts have worked for over half a year.

Politicians

Svenja Schulze (SPD), federal environment minister

The coal exit commission’s agreement is “a good compromise for climate protection”, because it laid out a phase-out path, showed economic perspectives for mining regions and says how Germany could guarantee supply security, environment minister Svenja Schulze told Deutschlandfunk. “The commission has done a very, very good job.”

Now the government has to implement the recommendations of the coal exit commission, which “will surely not be a cakewalk,” said Schulze. “However, if we manage to do it, we can once again become an energy policy role model. […] We are after all the ones that have the necessary know-how, the engineering capacity, the universities that can develop this.”

Economy minister Altmaier would now examine the phase-out path proposal and translate it into a law. “Then, the German parliament has to decide the concrete individual steps, and here we have to examine closely every detail now,” said Schulze.

The government also has to closely examine how the financial support for the mining regions is used and make a plan to ensure that it will “result in something that avoids CO₂,” said Schulze.

Peter Altmaier (CDU), federal economy and energy minister

The government will “closely and constructively review” the coal exit commission proposal before deciding the relevant legislation, Germany’s economy and energy minister Peter Altmaier told ZDF Morgenmagazin. Germany will need two major laws to implement the phase-out: one on support for mining regions, the other on the timetable for coal power plant shutdowns.

In another interview, Altmaier told public broadcaster ARD that - after the commission had negotiated for half a year - the government itself will “take a few days, and then finally and conclusively comment on individual questions.” The finance ministry would have to examine the financial implications of the coal exit. “We are ready for a very quick start regarding the financing," said Altmaier and added that relevant funds had already be made available in the current budget. “We are able to make a lot possible.”

The government “will do everything, so that consumers are protected from power price increases due to the switch from coal to renewables,” Altmaier told ZDF. “We examine the relevant proposal by the coal exit commission.”

Olaf Scholz (SPD), federal finance minister

“It’s definitely good news that the commission on structural change has found an agreement,” finance minister Olaf Scholz told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Germany had to aspire to “continue to develop into an energy policy role model,” he said.

Michael Kretschmer (CDU), state premier of Saxony

Saxony’s state premier called the commission result "a success". It had been crucial that Saxony was able to force through the year 2038 as end date. “It was important for Saxony and the state govenrment to get a timeframe that allows us to get really going with the structural development.”

The 40 Billion euro in federal support for the affected lignite mining areas offered the region of Lusatia an opportunity for a kick-start, which we never had before. This was “an unbelieveably big number“ which Saxony would have never been able to come up with alone, Kretschmer said.

 Annalena Baerbock, Green Party leader (on Twitter)

"As an industrialised country, Germany will end the use of coal. This would have been unthinkable without the pressure exerted by environmental and climate action groups as well as by the Greens. Thank you all! But we'll need more than what the compromise says if we want to meet the climate targets."

Commission leaders

Ronald Pofalla (CDU), former Chief of the Chancellery, now board member at Deutsche Bahn

“27 out of 28 participants have agreed to the deal. I would call that an absolutely optimal result […] it was a historic tour de force,” said Pofalla. He said the compromise guaranteed jobs, a secure and affordable energy supply as well as sustainable climate protection, and would also contribute to a pacification of recent social conflicts triggered by the coal issue.

Pofalla pointed out that the commission’s recommendations must now form the basis for government negotiations, and that both parliament and the council of state governments (Bundesrat) still have to approve the measures.

“Implementing the deal would place Germany once again among international climate protection frontrunners (…) Germany can show that it can remain a highly industrialised nation while protecting the climate.”

Pofalla said Germany could possibly exit coal earlier than envisaged in the agreement: “Under certain market developments, hard coal could become unprofitable in the early 2030s.”

Barbara Praetorius, economist HTW Berlin and former deputy director at Agora Energiewende*

“The climate protection train is finally gathering speed again in Germany,” said Praetorius, but added she had hoped for a more ambitious exit path. Praetorius said it was decisive that the agreement now provides planning security for all stakeholders. “If the agreement is implemented, it will also become an economic success. Companies can use the opportunities offered by the energy transition.”

Praetorious said Germany will “certainly reach” its 2030 climate target for the energy sector if the deal is implemented, but added: “It is obvious that a coal exit alone cannot guarantee climate protection. This is why we now expect decisive measures in other sectors.”

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

Stanislaw Tillich (CDU, former state premier of lignite mining state Saxony)

The agreement was “an example to other coal regions in Europe and beyond,” and should inspire them to follow suit, Tillich said. “The regions’ inhabitants now have a perspective, and climate protection also has a perspective.” He said the coal exit was a “joint national effort to which everyone will have to contribute.”

 

Business

Michael Vassiliadis, head of miners’ union IG BCE and commission member:

“We have found a compromise after 21 hours of negotiations that cannot make us happy, but leaves us overall satisfied. We managed to shield the employees in coal power generation from social hardships from the structural change. At the same time, the coal phase-out is closely tied to verifiable progress with the future energy mix, the expansion of renewables and the grids. The regions get money for structural change, to create new quality jobs. The commission laid the foundation for a new Energiewende of reason.”

Stefan Kapferer, head of utility association BDEW and commission member

„The BDEW has always stressed that any compromise has to be responsible from an energy sector point of view and maintain the company’s property rights. We think both has been achieved. However, the ambitious additional reductions of secure capacity until 2022 requires fast investments in future supply security.”

“The result paints a clear picture of the future energy supply: A fast growing share of renewables, backed-up by gas capacity, which will become more climate-friendly step-by-step through power-to-gas.”

“….the commission report also contains the requirement to overhaul the system of energy taxes, fees and surcharges. Like the BDEW the commission calls for a CO2 price in transport and heating.”

Katherina Reiche, head of association of municipal utilities VKU and commission member  

“The report is a good foundation to develop the phase-out coal-fired power generation under the premises of supply security, preservation of value chains, climate action and innovation capacity of the regions…. For the municipal utilities continued support for combined heat and power, digitalisation of power grids, overhaul of fees, taxes and surcharges and a strategy for power-to-x strategy are crucial.”

 Simone Peter, head of renewables association BEE

„The coal commission has achieved a compromise that brings clarity about the future of energy supply, starts a socially acceptable structural change in the mining regions and offers them a prospect for the future. With regards to the climate ambitions, the deal has to be made more precise and backed-up in the now following process."

“[Achieving the goals of the Paris agreement] would only be possible, if the remaining power plants will run as little as possible. Only a fast expansion of renewables and a sufficiently high CO2 price can achieve a reduction of the coal plants’ running times. Furthermore, the exit plan has to be adjusted to the Paris agreement in 2023."

Utz Tillmann, managing director Chemical Industries Association (VCI)

“Ending coal-fired power production is a major challenge, even when it’s done gradually. Until 2022, we will lose power plants that today ensure a secure supply without having the necessary grid and storage capacity in place. The comptetitiveness of energy-intensive industries is at stake. Affordable power is a lifeline for us.”

 Rolf Martin Schmitz, CEO of RWE

"The Commission's proposals have serious consequences for RWE's lignite business. We will carefully analyse the concrete consequences for our company. The yardstick for the assessment must be that politicians find solutions that neither disadvantage the affected employees nor the company. We are committed to safeguarding the interests of our employees and shareholders. Of course, we are open to discussions."

Environmental groups

Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace Germany and commission member

„At least Germany is moving again after years in climate policy coma. With the help of the pressure of tens of thousands of protesters, Greenpeace and other environmental groups were able to push through important partial successes: Germany finally has a road map for how to make the country coal-free. There will be no further coal plants. Greenpeace and other groups made sure that the commission has clearly supported keeping Hambach forest.

However, the report has a grave flaw: the speed is not right. The end-date of 2038 is inacceptable for Greenpeace. That’s what we show with our dissenting vote. The conflict about coal and the necessary speed will only end, once the exit fits the goals of the Paris Agreement. Greenpeace will fight for that together with the climate movement.

Christoph Bals, Germanwatch

The agreed coal exit is a big landmark for Germany. It’s important that the commission’s proposals will become law before parliament’s summer recess. At the same time, a climate protection law for all sectors has to be passed. However, the agreed exit plan is not sufficient as the German energy sectors contribution to fight the global climate crisis.

Laura Weis, campaigner Germany environmental group 350.org:

“The proposal to exit coal only in 2038 is disastrous from a climate policy point of view. It’s incomprehensible that the exit should only happen in 2038 after billions of euros will have been gone to coal companies, industry and the mining regions. We expect that the government steps up efforts and decides an exit path that is compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. For that half of Germany’s coal capacity has to go offline now. Instead of assessing the exit in 2032, it has to be concluded by then.

Sascha Müller-Kraenner, Environmental Action Germany (DUH)

“The entry into the coal exit has been made. But the speed and scope are not enough to fulfil the Paris Agreement’s climate targets. What’s clear is that ending coal will only be possible if renewables and the power grid are available in adequate amounts. The government has to remove any obstacle to that now. We need a new Renewable Energy Act with a binding roadmap for achieving the minimum goal of a 65 percent-share of renewables by 2030.“

 

Analysts

Patrick Graichen, Director Agora Energiewende

„Today’s coal compromise shows once again in an impressive way that Germany can settle big societal conflicts through consensus.”

“The real job only starts now. We will only get coal exit, supply security and affordable energy if the government immediately starts with the expansion of renewables to 65 percent of power consumption by 2030, the extension of power grids and the flexibilization of the power market to allow for new gas-fired back-up plants. If the government succeds neither power prices nor risks to  supply security will increase.”

“The agreed coal exit path however does not mean that Germany will achieve its 2020 climate goal fast…. That’s now down to the mobility and buildings commission – and to the government which will have to take the recommendations seriously and put them into law in 2019.”

Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

"The whole world is watching how Germany - a nation based on industry and engineering, the fourth largest economy on our planet - is taking the historic decision of phasing out coal. This could cascade globally, locking in the fastest energy transition in history. This can help end the age of finger-pointing, the age of too many governments saying: why should we act, if others don't? Germany is acting, even if the commission's decision is not flawless. Yet it is a key contribution to limit the the increasing risks of for instance extreme weather events across the world. To avoid crucial elements of the Earth system to tip, such as the huge ice sheets, we need social tipping points. Germany just passed one of these."

Niklas Höhne, NewClimate Institute

“Germany has made an essential step in the transition to a greenhouse-gas-free electricity system. To comply with the Paris Agreement temperature goal, Germany needs to phase out coal power by around 2030 and reduce it significantly already by the early 2020s. Most importantly, a consensus was reached to phase out coal. This provides certainty to the market participants. However, the agreed speed is still too slow for the goals of the Paris Agreement and has to be reviewed regularly."

"The result illustrates the challenges that other countries will have to go through when they plan the phase out of coal. The core of the compromise is a compensation mechanism basically to all players: to electricity utilities, to coal regions and to consumers, all of which will be taken from public budgets. Compensation for coal regions and poorer households is essential, but compensation to electricity utilities operating coal plants today is questionable. Coal plants all around the world are under huge economic pressure with electricity from wind and solar becoming competitive. This and/or a well-functioning carbon price would have driven coal out of the market without compensation to electricity utilities."

ndeshilfe für den Strukturwandel böten etwa der Lausitz die Chance auf einen "Anschub, wie wir ihn noch nie gehabt haben". Dies sei eine "unglaublich gewaltige Zahl", die Sachsen allein nicht einmal ansatzweise hätte aufbringen können. 

 Claudia Kemfert, energy economist at DIW

“The coal commission has found a very good compromise. If those recommendations are implemented, the climate targets can be reached, Hambach Forest can stay and structural change can be managed intelligently. It’s important that the coal plants go offline as proposed, renewables are expanded faster than so far and that the proposed financial means are used for innovation and future-oriented energy projects. But it is particularly important, that politicians follow those recoomendations. The time for excuses is over, the coal exit has to be put in action fast and the Energiewende must be advanced.”

Nicholas Stern, chair LSE Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment

“This is an important step, but the German Government should continue to seek ways to phase out coal as a source of electricity well before 2038. Coal is already uncompetitive with renewables, even without allowing for the high cost of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and is immensely expensive if these are taken into account. Continuing with coal makes no economic sense and is environmental destructive. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year pointed out that global emissions of greenhouse gases need to be cut by 50 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 if the world is to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 Celsius degrees. Zero-carbon electricity is vital for cutting emissions in other sectors, such as transport and heating. The Commission is right to recognise the importance of helping those workers whose jobs currently depend on coal to make the transition to a zero-carbon economy. Society should and can find ways to create opportunities and support for a just and rapid transition away from coal.”

Media

 Malte Kreutzfeld, taz

„Not more than a start“ – That such diverse players such as industry associations, environmental groups and unions were able to agree a compromise in the end is a success in itself in these times, in which public debates become ever more aggressive and less factual.”

“Whether the climate will be a winner, remains to be seen.”

„That the grass roots movements […] reject the compromise is understandable given the climate policy weaknesses - and helpful. Because the coal commission decision is a good start for the further process – nothing less but also nothing more. A lot of public pressure will remain necessary until the final end of coal use.”

 Michael Bauchmüller, Süddeutsche Zeitung

"Only a start!" - „With coal it’s like with so much in life: The beginning is more important than the end. And the commission has managed exactly that beginning.

“It’s a beginning that can create a lot of peace.”

“The other side of the Energiewende will be decisive for the climate. The farewell to the old energy sources can only succeed if the entry into the new ones, mainly renewables, picks up speed.”

“It is a start, and it is only a start. Both is the result of the commission but both was not self-evident. To get this start on the way with such a broad consensus is an achievement in itself. It’s also a sign of strength of this society.”

All texts created by the Clean Energy Wire are available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)” . They can be copied, shared and made publicly accessible by users so long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.
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