14 Sep 2018, 13:11
Benjamin Wehrmann Julian Wettengel

Hambach row divides coal commission / Call for energy policy reform

Spiegel Online

The conflict over coal-mining expansion in the Hambach Forest, where police have started evicting anti-coal activists, is becoming an issue that could threaten the stability of Germany’s coal exit commission, news website Spiegel Online writes. Commission member Eric Schweitzer, head of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), said 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,” the industry lobbyist said. Michael Vassiliadis, head of mining labour union IG BCE, said activists in the Hambach Forest did not stand for “peaceful protest and open debating culture.” On the other hand, commission member Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace said the “irresponsible” eviction of activists in the forest on the basis of pretextual arguments would “put a massive burden on the so far trustful cooperation in the coal commission.”

Read the article in German here.

See CLEW's Coal exit commission watch and the factsheet on the coal commission for background.

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The start of evictions of anti-coal activists in the Hambach Forest “has already done enormous damage to the image of [energy company] RWE”, which could turn into a veritable “disaster” once the company starts cutting trees in October, Jürgen Flauger, Kathrin Witsch, Silke Kersting and Klaus Stratmann write in the Handelsblatt. While the remaining forest near the Hambach lignite mine might merely consist of 100 hectares, “it has become a symbol for environmentalists against the contested energy source,” the authors say. RWE insists that it has no choice but to start mine expansion soon for technical reasons, and, according to the article, the mine in Hambach is one of the company’s most profitable operations that it does not want to see closed any time soon. “But the conflict nonetheless comes at a very inconvenient time for RWE,” the authors say, arguing that the company has a great interest in a viable compromise in Germany’s coal exit commission, which becomes more unlikely with every tree cut down.

Read the article in German here.

See CLEW's Coal exit commission watch and the dossier Utilities and the energy transition for background.

Süddeutsche Zeitung

German energy company RWE may be legally entitled to proceed with the expansion of its lignite mine near the Hambach Forest and to have police remove protesters, but the conditions that led to RWE’s license for expansion “have changed dramatically,” Michael Bauchmüller writes in an opinion piece in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “When the hole in Hambach was licensed, there was no Paris Climate Agreement, no promise by industrialised states to reach peak emissions ‘as soon as possible’. And there was no Energiewende in sight, quite the contrary. Wind and solar power were seen as a nice utopia that would never deliver relevant amounts of electricity.”

Read the opinion piece in German here.

See CLEW's Coal exit commission watch and the factsheet Germany’s three lignite mining regions for background.

Spiegel Online

The apparent preparation of clearing operations in the Hambach Forest is a sad event for many environmentalists who have hoped to preserve the old trees for years, but they should keep their focus on making progress in Germany’s coal exit commission, Stefan Schultz writes in an opinion piece on Spiegel Online. “Even if Germany decides on a quick end of coal-fired power production, this will still take years to be implemented,” he says. The coal provided in the Hambach lignite mine cannot easily be substituted and would merely lead to environmental damage elsewhere, Schultz argues. The fight of NGOs like Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) and Greenpeace might seem “likeable,” but it “threatens a much more important mission: their work in the coal commission.” If the environmentalists want to tackle coal on a much broader level, “they need all their diplomatic skills” in the commission to make a coal exit happen faster. 

Read the opinion piece in German here.

See CLEW's Coal exit commission watch and the factsheet on the Coal commission for background.

Clean Energy Wire

The need for reform in German energy policy is “piling up” under the current grand coalition government, said Oliver Krischer, deputy leader of the Greens parliamentary group in a plenary debate on the economy and energy budget for 2019. Economy minister Peter Altmaier has travelled through Germany to attend “nice press events on grid development, but has not delivered laws or regulations,” said Krischer.
In his opening speech to the budget debate, Altmaier said he will make an effort to introduce a draft law on the planned special renewables auctions to the Bundestag still in September. He also announced that his government would present an industrial strategy together with the industry and workers representatives, which would secure a high level of industrial jobs in the future, as well as linking these traditional capacities with innovation in digitalisation.

Find the protocol of the plenary debate in German here.  

For background, read the CLEW article First 100 days - German government in disarray neglects energy policy.

Süddeutsche Zeitung

German carmakers might have been late to embark on the electrification of passenger cars, but, according to a recent study by patent law office Grünecker, “are very well positioned when it comes to e-transporters and e-trucks,” Thomas Fromm writes for the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The study’s author, Jens Koch, said he was “surprised” how intensively German carmakers are working on the electric future of heavy duty vehicles. “About one third of all patents for electric utility vehicles in the past ten years come from German producers,” while many big producers from China did not register any relevant patents at all, Koch said. However, carmakers from the US and Japan currently are “much more dynamic” than their German competitors, Fromm writes.

Read the article in German here.

See the CLEW dossier on German carmakers and the Energiewende and the factsheet on Road freight emissions in Germany for more information.

Handelsblatt Global

In an opinion piece, David Reay reacts to the op-ed on liquefied natural gas (LNG) by US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and US deputy secretary of energy Dan Brouillette in the Handelsblatt on 13 September. “The pair offers up a shameless diplomatic sales pitch to convince Germany to import more [LNG] from the US”, which it does not even need, writes Reay.

Find the opinion piece in English here.

For background, read the CLEW news piece Qatar Petroleum in talks with Uniper and RWE over German LNG terminal, the factsheet Gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 links Germany to Russia, but splits Europe, and the dossier The role of gas in Germany's energy transition.

Rheinische Post

Electric trucks with low noise emissions could be used in the German state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) for night-time deliveries in inner cities, which would also reduce traffic volumes during the day, the Rheinische Post reports. NRW transport minister Hendrik Wüst says silent electric engines would be “a precondition” for allowing deliveries after 10 pm, because “with a rattling diesel engine, this would not be acceptable for residents.” Dispatching trucks at night could greatly reduce the pressure on NRW’s roads, as many deliveries currently take place during peak commuting times, the article says.

Read the article in German here

See the CLEW dossier Cargo transport and the energy transition for background.


The development of power prices in Germany will have a big impact on the lifespan of wind turbines that are more than 20 years old and therefore no longer offer the guaranteed electricity price to investors mandated by Germany’s Renewable Energy Act (EEG), Kathrin Witsch writes in the Handelsblatt. In 2021 alone, over 4,400 megawatts’ worth of windmills will lose this support, with more and more turbines turning 20 in the coming years. Several companies have announced plans to buy up old wind farms and develop business concepts for profitable operations in the future. But “like all old machines, wind farms have worn down after 20 years and need more repair and maintenance work than new installations,” she says. “The current power price of 3 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) would hardly be enough to keep turbines operating, except for a few exceptions at very good locations,” Witsch writes, adding that power purchase agreements (PPA) are one option that could shield operators from low power prices.

Read the article in German here.

See the CLEW dossier on Onshore wind power in Germany for more information.

WWF Germany

The bankruptcy of US investment bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008 demonstrated the fragility of the global financial system, and ten years later it is time to recognise that neglecting climate risks could trigger another financial crisis, the environmental organisation WWF Germany says in a press release. “The answer to the climate crisis affects the whole economy,” says WWF sustainable finance expert Matthias Kopp. “If the current transformation is not integrated into the financial system, this could have devastating effects for capital investments and assets,” he says. The “carbon bubble” is just one example of the dangers that lurk in a financial world shaped by climate change and the transition to low-carbon energy generation, Kopp says. However, the financial system could also be “a central lever” for climate action by systematically including sustainability aspects in the regulation of financial markets, he adds.

Read the press release in German here.

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