German coal exit talks reveal difficult task ahead

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Germany struggles to get coal exit task force on track, with government postponing official launch of phase-out commission for third time.

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Anti-Coal demonstration in front of the Chancellery
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Clean Energy Wire

The launch of Germany’s coal commission has been delayed for a third time. Photo: Pixabay.

Germany struggles to get its highly anticipated coal exit task force on track. The government on Wednesday postponed at the last minute the official launch of the phase-out commission for the third time.

The quarrels over the commission’s leadership and remit bear witness to the enormous task ahead, and also foreshadow difficult negotiations.

However, the government insists that its schedule to name an end date for coal by the end of the year will be kept.

The German government removed the official launch of Germany’s coal exit commission from the cabinet agenda only hours before the meeting was due to start.

The third deferral of the body tasked with planning the phase-out of Germany’s most important fossil power source hints at the enormous challenges that lie ahead.

A government spokesperson said some “questions regarding personnel” still needed to be resolved but said the commission’s objectives had been agreed on.

The fresh delay of the comission’s launch did not affect the commission’s schedule, the spokesperson added.

The commission’s timetable stipulates a first report to the government by October, proposals for closing Germany’s climate gap for 2020 before the COP24 in Poland, and the final report by year-end, a government document seen by the Clean Energy Wire said.

The coal commission – officially called “Special Commission on Growth, Structural Economic Change and Employment” – is supposed to bring policymakers, industry representatives, labour unions and reportedly alsoenvironmental NGOs to the table to decide on a roadmap and a clear end date for coal-fired power production.

Germany must exit coal-fired power generation to reach its goal of becoming largely greenhouse gas-neutral by mid-century, as the technology is the country’s single-largest source of carbon emissions.

In the past months, there was intense squabbling about every aspect of the task force, regarding questions such as:

What should be the commission’s title? Which ministries should be in charge? Who else should be a member in the commission? What should be its priorities?

[Find more details in the article Germany gears up for official talks on coal phase-out]

A “monstrous commission” for a gigantic task

Earlier negotiations about the future of coal in Germany had already revealed that the subject is extremely sensitive.

Disagreements over coal were one of the reasons for the collapse of the “Jamaica” coalition talks between CDU, the Greens and pro-business FDP at the end of last year, where the Conservatives agreed with the Greens to retire 7 gigawatt (GW) of coal capacity by 2020.

Media commentators said the protracted wrangling revealed that the coal exitwill have a deep impact on Germany.

“The squabbling before the launch is indicative of the task force’s importance,” wrote Angela Ulrich for public broadcaster ARD. Stefan Schultz and Gerald Traufetter wrote on Spiegel Online that the coal exit is likely to be “one of the defining projects of the coming decades”.

It was therefore  understandable that so many lobby groups wanted to have a say, resulting in a commission with “monstrous dimensions”.

According to the latest plans, eight ministries will be involved in the task force, which will be headed by four people. Representatives of six German states will also participate.

Numerous associations – representing utilities, industry, renewables, employers, and environmentalists – also vie for a say.

Some media published a provisional list of task force members, including Michael Vassiliadis, head of the mining union IG BCE, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Environmental NGO WWF said the complicated makeup “will make it very difficult for the commission to arrive at a result”.

“Time is running out to present first results by autumn” as planned, tweeted Greenpeace Energy. “At least, a last chance to improve on the task force’s mandate and personnel.”

 

Anti-Coal demonstration in front of the Chancellery

The chemical industry warned this week that power prices would rise and supply security could be endangered if the exit was too fast.

The head of the Green’s parliamentary group, Anton Hofreiter, called the new postponement a “tragedy” He added: “This does not bode well. Neither climate protection nor urgent answers for thousands of coal employees must be postponed in this delay commission.”

Source: Clean Energy Wire. Reproduced with permission.

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14 Comments
  1. Joe 1 year ago

    Can’t they find enough ‘Coal Barons’ to sit on the panel? I’m being sarcastic. I do note that Germany is ceasing Anthracite ( Black Coal ) production by the end of this year. Lignite ( Brown Coal ) is the problem. There is plenty of the brown stuff that can be mined and it is ‘cheap electricity’ – cheap as in end price to consumers but its not cheap in terms of the social and environment costs.

    • Andrew Roydhouse 1 year ago

      Doesn’t the ‘cease black coal before brown’ strike you as cart before horse?

      Are the brown coal mines in more marginal seats/areas perhaps?

      • MacNordic 1 year ago

        Oh, at least still a market for Australian coal exports;-)

        Reason for ceasing black coal production is plain cost – completely uncompetitive, as deep- pit mining in a high (wage) cost environment is simply too expensive. All the cheaper, easier to reach coal seams have been exploited& now they have to go down to below 800-1500m in order to reach the seams.
        Background info: the coal seams reach the surface on the southern fringes of the Ruhrgebiet and subdue northwards at an angle of 6°. Last mines are in Bottrop and Ibbenbüren; there are ideas to convert them to PHES facilities after closure – plenty of head there!

        As to the seats: not really, the black coal mines are in the same state as one of the brown coal regions (Rhineland) – which used to be solid SPD (Labour) – who happen to be completely divided.

        The eastern brown coal region of Lusatia are marginal economically and geographically, but politically pitch black (one state) or pitch red (the other state). The CDU (conservatives) happens to be equally divided… So a completely muddled picture;-)

        • Andrew Roydhouse 1 year ago

          Thanks for a great detailed response – much appreciated!

          • MacNordic 1 year ago

            A pleasure!

        • heinbloed 1 year ago

          The “reds” aren’t red in the lignite areas.
          But the “blacks” are certainly black.

          • MacNordic 1 year ago

            They might sport a certain brownish hue;-)

      • JWW 1 year ago

        Fortunately, marginal seats don’t exist in Germany because of it’s -IMHO far superior- proportional representation of voters in parliament.
        The reason that black coal is phased out first is that it has been highly subsidised for decades. I am talking subsidies of some 100k$ per job per year!
        The lignite is not hundreds of meters underground but in open cut mines, so I guess it is much cheaper to mine, and actually provides for nominally “cheap” electricity.

        • Joe 1 year ago

          The Hambach operation is a shocker to see. It is one of the biggest open cut coalmines in the world. Wholesale destruction of land and nearby residences as it all gets gobbled up under the ‘Giant Claw’.

          • JWW 1 year ago

            Yes. It is/will be a massive hole and eyesore, too.
            There might be one positive coming out of it though: After the end of the mining operation, the site might be turned into a pumped hydro power station.
            Prof. Andrew Blakers from ANU has suggested similar projects in Australia to facilitate a 100% renewable grid.

    • heinbloed 1 year ago

      Well, there is no one on the panel representing those people who are dircetly effected, those who lose home and heritage with the expansion of the lignite mines.
      Excluding those who are effected would be against the constitution of Germany.
      With the government’s aim to allow for further expansions of the lignite pits they hopefully find no traitors.
      We’ll see.

  2. heinbloed 1 year ago

    Interest in cheap coal power by the large consumers might wean a bit more now since Brussel has decided that all grid surchages must reflect the real costs.

    All large consumers of the usually centralised coal power (lignite!) received special tariffs in the past, this has to be challenged now.

    http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-3966_en.htm

    On the other hand large power consumers were just relieved from the off-shore wind power surcharge, reductions are now allowed:

    http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-2621_en.htm

    The off-shore surcharge relative small compared to the overall grid charge, another nail into the coal’s coffin has been pointed 🙂

  3. Hettie 1 year ago

    Of course I am speaking from a position of total ignorance, but wouldn’t removal of FF subsidies and putting equivalent funding into renewables achieve the desired result? Some of the subsidies being tied to employing coal workers in renewables projects?
    I understand the laudable objective of having an orderly process, with as few people as possible being hurt, but all the infighting does not suggest that there is any hope of achieving that objective. Better to tilt the playing field against coal and in favour of renewables, and then get out of the way while market economics does the rest.

  4. Rusdy Simano 1 year ago

    Retiring 7 GW by 2020? Wow, meanwhile, Australia passing coal in the parliament…

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