In office now for about 100 days, Germany’s environment minister, Peter Altmaier, has laid out a 10 point plan for the energy transition. This isn’t a “master plan,” he says, which looks deep into the future. That’s impossible, he argues, because technologies and other realities are changing so quickly that we can’t make a master plan today that will be valid in 20 years.
So it’s more of a to-do list, which at least something. Since Altmaier’s first months as minister haven’t been particularly spectacular in terms of the Energiewende — and the fact that the Merkel government in general has been dragging its feet — this agenda has some surprises in it.
For example he proposes strengthening the EU emissions reductions targets for 2020 from their current 20 to 30 percent (in relation to 1990). This could prove very controversial, especially among some of Germany’s neighbors. But good for him.
Also, on the up side, if a bit vague, he spoke of forming a “Club of Energiewende Countries,” namely a group of states that are also undergoing clean energy transitions. He didn’t specify why he wants to do this, but I like the idea. It could help make Germany and its energy revolution appear a little less quirky. Germany’s not all on its own — just look at the Scandinavian countries, for example.
Also good, he will create a department for the Energiewende in the ministry, as well as one for climate protection and citizen participation. But just having offices with new name plates on them won’t mean anything unless the offices possess real competencies and clout. So let’s wait if they’re more than window dressing.
More worrying, he wants to revamp Germany’s Renewable Energy Law (EEG) this year. It is the EEG that, among other things, set the feed-in-tariff rates for renewables. While it has enabled Germany to dramatically increase its share of renewables in the overall energy mix — and ultimately to bring their prices down — it is a bugbear of the administration’s neo-liberals who see it as a superfluous, market-skewing subsidy. A sign of the direction Altmaier’s going, he underscored that the incentives were never meant to be permanent (everybody knows that) and that energy consumers will bear even more of the burden when the cost of reconstructing the energy grid is added to their energy costs. In other words, the tariffs’ gradual reductions are probably going to be sped up.
So, it seems that a full-fledged battle over the EEG is looming. Maybe Altmaier’s proposals on climate protection and his grandiose formulations (“the Energiewende is the biggest undertaking since post-WWII reconstruction”) are just a few bonbons to sweeten the gutting of the EEG come autumn. Seems likely.
See Paul Hockenos's own blog on Germany's energy revolution: Going Renewable.
Lead image: To do list via Shutterstock
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