27 Apr 2015 | Sören Amelang

Utilities urged to face reality in row over coal levy

The environment ministry has rebuffed utilities’ criticism of the planned levy for coal-fired power plants and maintains the sector shoulder its share of cutting CO2 emissions. Government and researchers stress the need for efficiency gains in the housing sector if climate targets are to be met.

All players should admit Germany’s long-term climate goals clearly imply that fossil fuels can only generate a residual amount of electricity by 2050, State Secretary in the environment ministry (BMUB) Jochen Flasbarth said at an energy efficiency conference in Berlin (Berliner Energietage 2015). He said every sector must now contribute in order to reduce CO2 emissions. “It’s a cheap game to point the finger at others. Everybody can play that card,” said Flasbarth.

Hildegard Müller, chairwoman of utility association BDEW had said over the weekend that other sectors, such as heating and transport, should contribute more to climate goals. Because the government could not agree on efficiency measures, the emissions reduction targets for this area have been moved into the distant future – but the power sector could not be expected to be the only emitter to deliver its contribution to the climate protection targets, Müller told the Rheinische Post.

Flasbarth said the economy and energy ministry's proposal to impose a levy on old fossil-fuelled plants when they breach certain emissions limits was a good and balanced way to start cutting CO2 emissions in the energy sector. “I am quite disappointed with the current tone of attacks against this proposal,” said Flasbarth.

New building insulation promotion

Flasbarth also said the government was preparing new incentives for making homes more energy-efficient. “We will step up our programme for building insulation,” Flasbarth said. He added the original plan for tax cuts had to be abandoned because the Bavarian government had blocked it. “We will provide an alternative system of direct support which is currently being prepared by the economics ministry,” Flasbarth said.

Making homes more energy-efficient will have to play a much larger role in the Energiewende because buildings account for 40 percent of Germany’s primary energy consumption, Flasbarth added. The current challenge was  to increase modernisation rates while leaving housing affordable, Flasbarth said. “But we are convinced that the modernisation of homes will be a win-win-situation in the end.”

Felix Matthes, research coordinator at the Öko-Institut, also urged speeding up the insulation of homes to put climate goals within reach. He said tenants and homeowners often overlooked that insulation efforts could protect them from unpredictable prices for fossil fuels in the longer term.

Matthes stressed efficiency in general was a central but neglected pillar of Germany’s transition to a low-carbon economy. “Without increasing efficiency we will neither achieve the Energiewende nor our climate goals,” he added.

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