Kohlersusstieg: Environmentalists fear late start

Five environmentalists who were members of the so-called coal commission fear that the start of the coalition exit will be delayed. The committee has "compromised eight months ago, but there is still no draft for a coal exit law," says a letter to economics minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) and his undersecretary Andreas Feicht. "The timely implementation of the compromise of the Commission is at risk."


Author of the letter, which is available to the SPIEGEL, are the Green Party politician Reiner Priggen, BUND boss Hubert Weiger, the civic activist Antje Grothus, Greenpeace CEO Martin Kaiser and the chairman of the German conservation ring, Kai Niebert. They all belonged to the Commission "Growth, Structural Change and Employment" until January 2019, the coal commission. This had developed a concept for the coal exit, which the government wants to follow largely in the legislation. Accordingly, all coal power plants in Germany should be shut down by 2038 at the latest.


As the SPIEGEL learned from government circles, the Cabinet is currently aiming to end its exit law for hard coal and lignite on 20 November. The responsible Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy did not confirm the concrete date on request – but referred to the climate package of the government, according to which the regulations for the exit from the coal power generation "in November" are to be approved by the Cabinet.


A first bill to regulate the exit from the coal had already leaked in September, but this still lacked essential information. Negotiations between the government and the operators of the power plants are currently underway to phase out lignite.


Fear of the Winter Hole 2020


The five environmentalists ask Altmaier in their letter to present the law in October and to have it adopted in the Cabinet. "If the Cabinet decides the law until the end of November, then it should be approved by Parliament in April or May," says Greenpeace CEO Kaiser.


This in turn threatens to delay the shutdown of the first hard coal miners, because this is regulated by a subsequent tendering process.



"When the law comes into force, the Federal Network Agency must first determine how many gigawatts of power coal-fired power plants have left, which are still connected to the grid," says Kaiser.


"It is not until three months later that the first calls for tenders can begin in which power plant operators can submit bids on how high the premium they should receive for the decommissioning of their oilers," explains Kaier. "It may take up to another three months for individual operators to win the contract from the Federal Network Agency, but overall this process should be completed by the end of 2020."


The coal exit could thereby fall into a kind of winter hole. Because in the dark, cold months, the power consumption is highest, accordingly, particularly many reserves are required for the production. It is therefore not ruled out that the first hard coal-fired power plants will be closed down in the spring of 2021 via the tendering procedure, according to government circles.


Conflict with the nuclear phase-out?


But this could cause new conflicts in the energy system. After the proposal of the coal commission, which the federal government wants to follow to a large extent, until the end of 2022 coal rigs with an output of about 12.5 gigawatts will be shut down.


These include some old power plants that are scheduled to go offline – but also coal-fired power plants with an output of 4.5 gigawatts, which are to be shut down via the tender procedure.



The remaining German nuclear power plants will also cease operations by the end of 2022, and many are also scheduled to be shut down in the last two years.


"If nothing happens in 2020, then 2021 to 2022 there will be concentrated shutdowns of power plants," warns Kaiser. "That would be good neither for grid stability nor for climate protection."


Danger of fluctuating electricity prices


The coal commission also warned in its final report that electricity prices could rise as a result of the carbon leakage. She therefore proposed to create a balance that relieves companies and private households. This is possible, for example, through a reduction in grid fees, which can make up about one fifth of the electricity price for private households.


However, if in the years 2021 and 2022 very many atomic and coal-fired power plants go off the grid in a short time, then the rise in electricity prices could possibly be even stronger. It is also possible that prices will fluctuate more.


It had been "consensus in the Commission," that by 2020 at the latest, the first brown and hard coal power plants go from the network, "it says in the letter of the five ex-Commission members. The too late submission of the coal export law from her point of view is a "fatal signal that endangers the existence of the coal compromise."


The coal commission had proposed to reduce the installed generation capacity from coal-fired power plants to 30 gigawatts by 2022, to reduce them to 17 gigawatts by 2030, and finally to zero by 2038 at the latest.


Currently there are 18.9 GW lignite-fired power plants and 21.4 GW hard coal-fired power plants in the market, accounting for more than two thirds of emissions in the energy sector.

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