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Energy Storm Turns to a Breeze

After weeks of discord in Germany’s coalition government over the future of the nation’s energy supply, ministers from both camps are working together to reach a compromise on traditional and renewable forms of energy.


What does the future hold for Germany's wind power?

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder met with Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin of the Green Party in an intimate ‘energy summit’ designed to take the wind out of a gusty debate on the future of Germany’s national energy supply.

Joined by the chairmen of the country’s main energy providers, EnBW. E.ON, RWE and Vattenfall, and representatives of the industrial concern Thyssen Krupp and chemical giant BASF, the chancellor and his ministers rolled up their sleeves and discussed the fate of traditional energy sources such as coal and gas and alternative forms such as wind and solar. The two-hour meeting had been preceded by an ongoing dispute between Clement and Trittin over Germany’s energy mix and hefty subsidies for alternative power sources.

Meeting environmental goals

Despite initial hesitancy and a spattering of criticism from both sides, the meeting was hailed a success. Although, as a government spokesman explained prior to the talks, the participants were not expecting any concrete resolutions, the word from those emerging from the chancellor’s office, was of a stimulating and constructive debate.


Jürgen Trittin (photo), who was conspicuously not invited to a meeting between Schröder and the heads of the nation’s top four energy companies in the wake of the historic U.S. blackout last month, was evidently happy with Thursday’s talks. He told reporters that his views on emissions trading and climate protection had met with far-reaching agreement, although he added that the details had yet to be discussed.

Emissions trading

Energy companies in Germany are currently waiting for the government to announce the level of emissions rights they will be granted under the emissions trading system to be introduced in Europe in 2005. The system, which creates financial incentives to reduce pollution in order to fulfil the reduction commitments assumed under the Kyoto Protocol, operates on the basis of allowance certificates. If a company produces more emissions than its pollution allowance permits, it will be able to purchase rights from another company which does not exhaust its full allowance. The incentive is for companies to generate as little carbon dioxide emissions as possible in order to sell off their unused allowance at a profit.

Although Germany is ahead of the rest of Europe and has largely met its Kyoto commitments, Trittin is determined to see a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020. In an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt on Thursday, the environment minister said his stance was largely based on the commitment which German industry had imposed on itself.

Will the sails keep turning?

The other, albeit secondary issue, on the agenda at Thursday’s talks still remains a point of conflict within the red-green coalition. Jürgen Trittin a strong proponent of wind power and renewable energy sources, butted heads with Wolfgang Clement, who supports holding on to traditional energy sources. Clement has criticized the Greens’ overemphasis on wind energy and has said the wind parks sprouting across the land are at best "over subsidized" and at worst inefficient.

The Green party and other supporters of renewable energy argue that not only do the giant wind turbines generate clean power and protect the environment, but that they also lead to the creation of almost 50,000 jobs. There are currently 14,000 wind power generators operating in Germany, more than anywhere else in the world, and if the environment minister gets his way, 12.5 percent of Germany’s overall energy output will come from renewable sources by the year 2012, and 20 percent by the year 2020, with costs falling year by year.

Not everybody's darling

But those on the other side of the fence argue that the jobs come at a high price and ultimately the consumer has to pay the cost through subsidies. There is also concern that wind turbines don’t always generate enough energy, and that some locations which have been selected as wind farm sites are too sheltered to be able to do the job properly.

And it is not only politicians who are opposed to the mass expansion of Germany’s wind parks, there is also dissent in rural regions, where residents fear the charming countryside, and hence the tourist attraction, will be marred by what has been dubbed ‘the asparagus effect’ of the almost-trifid like constructions. To that Trittin simply responded, "I don’t know what everybody has against asparagus. It’s one of my favorite vegetables."

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