10 Jul 2024, 13:15
Sören Amelang

German government says no new law planned to ensure coal exit earlier than 2038

Tageszeitung / Clean Energy Wire

The German government does not intend to introduce a law to pull forward the country’s coal power phase-out from the officially agreed 2038 exit date to 2030 . "A legal provision is not planned," said economy minister Robert Habeck, according to a report in newspaper Tageszeitung (taz). The three parties in the government coalition – chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), Habeck's Green Party, and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) in their 2021 coalition treaty had declared their intention to “ideally” pull forward the coal exit by eight years, but without specifying concrete legal measures to achieve this aim. However, Habeck said that operators could voluntarily switch off climate-damaging power plants earlier, as rising CO2 prices as a result of the reform of European emissions trading would make coal-fired power generation increasingly uneconomical. "In the long term, of course, it makes no sense to leave a power plant on the grid that is not running at all or is in the red - but that is a private-sector decision."

The economy ministry confirmed that that “the government will not make any political efforts” to change the statutory 2038 deadline. “A possible market-driven phase-out before 2038, as well as measures taken by the federal states and coal regions, remain unaffected by this,” a spokesperson told Clean Energy Wire, adding that Habeck had said before that this will not be decided "from above by decree”. Instead, the German government had supported an ambitious reform of EU emissions trading, which is now also being implemented as part of the Green Deal, the ministry spokesperson said. "In addition, a coal phase-out by 2030 has been agreed for the [western German] Rhineland coal mining area, which, together with the successful expansion of renewables and the power plant strategy, means that a market-driven, earlier coal phase-out is progressing."

Habeck repeatedly expressed his support for an earlier coal exit in the east of the country, following an agreement with coal plant and mine operator RWE to exit coal power in western Germany by 2030. But the country’s industry has questioned this possibility given the lag in building new gas power plants that are fit to run on hydrogen as a replacement. Habeck's ministry only recently released a timetable for the new backup power plants' construction, with first tenders to be held either at the end of 2024 or in early 2025. FDP finance minister Christian Lindner said late last year that a 2030 exit would remain a “daydream” if there is no other way to ensure that electricity remained “available and affordable”. East German coal mine operator LEAG has said it expected to extract lignite from its opencast pits past 2030, and eastern coal mining state premiers have also repeatedly rejected a 2030 exit. They insist that pulling forward the phase-out by several years will not be possible in the eastern Lusatia mining region, as it lacks both alternative energy generation capacities and alternative sources of income.

The state premier of eastern coal mining state Brandenburg, Dietmar Woidke, at the end of last week said that his government has no intention to plan for a phase-out before 2038. "This not only is a consensus within society, it is also what the law says," Woidke said at an event by lignite industry association DEBRIV. The SPD politician said planning security and stable surrounding conditions are key elements for a successful transition of coal mining areas, adding that the recently agreed support payments to operator LEAG in the context of the planned 2038 end date of about 1.75 billion euros would help to achieve this goal. The money should go into the renaturalisation of former mining sites, social support payments for workers, and investments into renewables and storage technologies in the region. "This is to ensure that Lusatia remains an energy and industry region," Woidke added.

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