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German govt starts the clock on coal’s final countdown

Merkel’s coal panel of Cabinet ministers, regional officials, union representatives and utility executives have less than half a year to achieve their self-appointed deadline (Pic: Bloomberg)

Berlin • Germany moved a step closer to ending coal-fired power as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet set up a group to plot the final phase out of the fuel.

The 31-member “coal commission” is under pressure to agree a plan to wind down Germany’s use of hard coal and lignite — so-called brown coal — before the next Paris

Climate meeting in Poland in December, according to Environment Minister Svenja Schulze. The fuel, which currently accounts for more than one-third of the country’s electricity generation, is being discarded because of concerns about greenhouse-gas pollution.

“The commission has two tasks: Climate protection and jobs,” German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told reporters in Berlin after the government signed off on a draft bill setting out the coal group’s tasks. In the gradual transition from coal to alternative energy sources, “it’s important that the new jobs are there before the others are snuffed out”.

Germany is seeking a blueprint for ending the use of coal that doesn’t lift electricity prices for companies and consumers, while also securing jobs in coal-dependent regions. The country already has the second-highest power prices in the European Union after Denmark. Germany’s Paris Climate Accord pledges entail a steady closure of the coal industry.

Merkel’s coal panel of Cabinet ministers, regional officials, union representatives and utility executives have less than half a year to achieve their self-appointed deadline.

The group needs to work out a plan to cut carbon emissions from power generation by 60% by 2030, according to a summary of the group’s goals last month.

While power-sector emissions must be tackled, the changes can’t be one-sided burdens on regions that rely on lignite mining and coal power, according to the summary.

Coal-burning plants are located mainly in North-Rhine Westphalia and in the eastern states of Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony.

Germany has about 120 power plants that burn lignite and hard coal in four states. The facilities are owned in the main by RWE AG, Uni per SE, STEAG GmbH and LausitzEnergieBergbau AG.

The coal commission was delayed by the drawn-out process to form a government after federal elections in September. Its aims are similar to a group formed in 2015 to assign costs and responsibilities stemming from Germany’s plan to phase out nuclear power. That deal left EON SE, Vattenfall AB, RWE and EnBW AG with a clean-up bill of about €23.6 billion (RM110.92 billion).

The Opposition Green Party and environmentalist groups say Germany’s coal commission may leave taxpayers with costs related to the legacy bills following the fuel’s exit. — Bloomberg