Germany’s environment minister Peter Altmaier has unexpectedly proposed cost-sharing measures to lower the consumer burden of the Energiewende. Yet as he's designed it, no one will line up behind the plan. Such politicking will likely backfire in the long run.
It’s satisfying that the minister finally made a move after nearly a year of praising the Energiewende out of one side of his mouth, and then blasting it out of the other. But it’s very unclear whether this strident move better defines a coherent government position on the energy transition. Equally ambiguous is whether it will ever see the light of day as policy – or whether it was meant to in the first place.
The Altmaier proposal amounts to slamming on the brakes. By freezing the clean energy incentive, it essentially caps renewable energy production. The problem with this is that it not only limits renewables growth, but it sends a message to potential investors that they can not depend on a set feed-in tariff that enables them to pay back their investment in clean energy technology. It is exactly this security that has enabled Germany to expand its zero-carbon energy supply so dramatically over the past decade. Thus it amounts to a major change in policy and a cave-in to the scare-mongers who claim that renewables are pushing up energy prices.
Moreover, the part of the proposal that recommends somehow taxing clean energy producers is simply ridiculous. These producers, like the guy with a barn roof covered with PV panels, were guaranteed a fixed rate for their investment and should receive it as previously agreed, not with new strings attached. Most observers say that a retroactive fee would be unlawful and therefore out of the question anyway.
But there is a bone throw to the pro-Energiewende fans both in the ruling coalition (they’re definitely there) and population (which is overwhelmingly pro-Energiewende). This is pushing industry to get in line to help pay for the Energiewende rather than foisting the entire bill onto the consumer. This is a good idea, but in the limited form that Altmaier is proposing, it won’t mean much.
Yet just the thought that industry too would help pay for the Energiewende was enough to send the BDI, industry’s foremost lobby group, and the free-market Free Democrats squawking that any such measure would be the ruin of German exporting.
In fact, the Altmaier proposal made no one happy. It also stands next to no chance of getting by energy progressives in the coalition, much less the red-green dominated Bundesrat, Germany’s upper house of parliament.
So why did the minister even bother?
It was political maneuvering, by and large to put the opposition in the position of looking uncaring about higher costs. If the Greens and the Social Democrats shoot down the proposal, they could be seen as unfeeling elitists who care more about polar bears than people.
But it could backfire, too. The Merkel government has attached its name to the Energiewende. If it can’t put a positive spin on its own creation, it might be dragged down with a flop of its own making. Rather than running with the Energiewende, it plans to run against it.
In my opinion this is ill-advised. Renewable energies have empowered several million voting Germans: as workers in the industry, energy producers, or investors. As the recent votes on the Länder level have shown, this constituency will vote in its own interest – and that is for a future based on renewables. Minister Altmaier is not the tactician he’s cracked up to be if he cannot see this.
The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of RenewableEnergyWorld.com or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.