12 Jan 2017 | Benjamin Wehrmann

Government lacks overview of Energiewende costs - auditors

The German government lacks clear overview of the costs of the country’s shift to renewable energy, according to the country’s Federal Court of Auditors. The auditors said the economy ministry had “no overview of the financial consequences of the Energiewende”, a criticism the ministry promptly rejected. A government project advisor said prior examinations had already shown the total costs of the country’s shift to a low-carbon economy were hard to assess.

In an audit report for the budget committee of Germany’s federal parliament, the Court objected that “fundamental questions” such as “How much will the energy transition cost the state?” remained unanswered.

The report was seen by the Clean Energy Wire, and is purely advisory in character. The independent Court assesses the legal compliance and economic viability of selected political projects, but does not evaluate their objectives. “We look at the implementation and if targets can be achieved in this way,” a Court spokesperson told the Clean Energy Wire.

Accordingly, the auditors did not criticise Germany’s intention to shift to a low-carbon energy supply as such. Neither did the report state that total costs were too high. Rather, it mainly questioned whether the economy ministry’s three billion euro Energiewende budget was put to the most efficient use.

The question of total costs is one of the most fervently debated aspects of the Energiewende in Germany. Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) ran a prominent story on the Court's report under the headline "Court of Auditors criticises Energiewende" in its print edition, causing a big echo on social media. 

Incomprehensible criticism

The economics ministry (BMWi), led by the likely Social Democrat candidate for Chancellor in this year’s general election, Sigmar Gabriel, dismissed the Court’s criticism as “incomprehensible.”

It said cost efficiency had been the cornerstone of the Renewable Energy Act’s (EEG) latest reform. It added the Court “misapprehended” the Energiewende’s complexity, which could not be “broken down into single figures.” 

The Court also warned expenses for energy transition support programmes lacked proper controlling by the economics ministry, making the Energiewende “ever more expensive.”

It criticised there was insufficient coordination within the economy ministry, and between the BMWi and Germany’s federal states as well as the federal government.

As an example, the Court said different ministries were offering similar online-helpdesks for saving electricity, even so citizens could obtain the same information from organisations without public funding. The BMWi continued to “initiate, extend and restock inefficient programmes,” the report said.

The auditors called for a comprehensive overview of the Energiewende’s financial consequences, which could help to define a “ceiling” for total costs. These findings should then be incorporated in the annual Energiewende Monitoring Report, compiled by an advisory board that assesses the energy transition’s progress for the German government, the report said.

Government advisor calls total costs “not too alarming”

Economist Andreas Löschel, who heads the advisory board authoring the Monitoring Report, told the Clean Energy Wire he and his colleagues had already examined Energiewende costs, and had published the findings. He said it was “very difficult to identify indicators for the quantification of total costs,” but added total costs seemed “not too alarming.”

Löschel warned it was nearly impossible to put a “ceiling” on the Energiewende’s total costs to society, because these depended on a wide range of factors.

Thomas Bareiß, energy policy expert of Angela Merkel’s Conservatives, said the auditor’s report highlighted a “sore spot” of the Energiewende.

He said the “green energy lobby” had often undermined efforts to get costs under control. “Other countries are only going to follow our example if we manage to achieve an affordable and secure Energiewende,” Bareiß said.

Green party energy expert Julia Verlinden said it was a “typical mistake” to “confound investments with costs” when talking about the energy transition.

She said expenses were accompanied by savings, for example when building insulations cut energy bills.

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