Sunday, October 25, 2009

New coalition bares teeth? Gums?

Yesterday, the new coalition that will probably govern Germany for the next four years published the compromise it reached for a political platform. For readers of this blog, there is little of interest that I haven't already reported on -- no specific announcements for solar or renewables in general -- so I will just mention a few general energy things.

First, the commissions for "safe" nuclear power plants will be extended. We can now look forward to hearing what the definition of "safe" is. One bone of contention here was the extra profits that plant owners would make off of these completely written-off plants, and it seems that most of the future profits will be taxed, with the revenue being devoted to renewables. If so, then one can only hope that a market mechanism like the current feed-in tariffs will be used. If the government decides to throw a bunch of research money at something, then they are obviously not letting the market decide which technology is best.

The new Environmental Minister is a certain Mr. Nobert Röttgen (and not Tanja Gönner as some expected). Little is known about his stance on renewables; indeed, he seems to have had little to do with environmental issues at all up to now, which only begs the question of what the criteria are for such offices. Our current Home Secretary / Secretary of State Mr. Wolfgang Schäuble, for instance, will be moving to the position of Finance Minister, which makes you wonder how the expertise he gained in domestic security issues over the past four years will help him design the government's finances.

Anyway, Röttgen is mainly known for a rather unsavory event a few years ago. He was appointed head of the German Industry Association (BDI) during his term as a member of the Bundestag, and he initially refused to step down from public office. Essentially, he would have been both a lobbyist for industry and a member of Parliament at the same time. The BDI itself apparently put pressure on him to make a decision, and he chose to stick with his public office.

Unlike the United States, Germany does not have a Department of Energy, with energy issues instead split between the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of the Environment. The Industry Minister is generally opposed to renewables, which industry considers too expensive, so if we are to have any support for renewables, you would expect it to come from the Environmental Minister. Having someone with such close ties to conventional industry as the Environmental Minister is probably a good move for those who wish to keep renewables in check. But let's not jump to conclusions -- Röttgen will be judged according to his performance like everyone else.

The German Renewable Energy Association (BEE) issued a press release saying it is "satisfied" with the agreement reached by the new coalition. In particular, the organization writes:

Wir nehmen das Angebot der neuen Regierung gern an, mögliche Veränderungen am EEG im Dialog mit der Branche zu erarbeiten.

(We accept the new government's invitation to enter into a dialogue with the industry about possible changes to the Renewable Energy Act.)

The BEE complains, however, that not enough is being done in the heating sector, and the coalition does not seem to have fixed the problem. Also, keeping nuclear plants on line will only "stop up the grid" and not allow for the capacity expansion of renewables that would otherwise be possible.

Greenpeace is less enthusiastic. In addition to a number of problems it has with the new coalition's policies related to genetically engineered foods and the automotive/airline sectors, the environmental activists write that the new coalition will throw Germany back "several years" in terms of its leadership in environmental technology. Greenpeace also expects Germany to have trouble meeting its carbon reduction targets under the new policy. But the organization does praise the new coalition's nature conservation policies, which include restrictions on imports of biofuels.

We may know more in a few weeks about specific rates for individual sources of renewable energy, but probably nothing anytime soon.

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