German Social Democrats debate climate ′killer′ coal | News | DW | 27.11.2015
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German Social Democrats debate climate 'killer' coal

A call by Germany's environment minister that the nation fast-track its coal exit has riled her party. A report says Germany is exporting coal technologies to countries where renewable energy sources are abundant.

Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendrick's rush to advance renewable energy sources instead of retaining coal power prompted a rebuff late Thursday from Hannelore Kraft, the premier of Germany's traditional coal state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).

Deutschland Bundesumweltministerin Barbara Hendricks

Hendricks wants coal's exit planned by 2017

Hendricks and Kraft are both members of the center-left, trade unions-backed Social Democrats (SPD), whose leader Sigmar Gabriel is Economy Minister and Vice-Chancellor in Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative-led coalition government.

Kraft, who was visiting Colombia, one of Europe's suppliers of hard coal, described Hendrick's appeal for Germany quickly to draw up by 2017 a coal exit timetable as a "solo maneuver" at odds with the more gradual coal-to-renewables policy espoused by the wider SPD.

Hendrick also drew a stinging repost from Germany's energy and mining trade union, the IG BCE, in a branch which has already lost thousands of jobs.

Its spokesman, Christian Hülsmeier, was quoted in Friday's edition of Düsseldorf's "Rheinischen Post" newspaper as saying that the climate issue would not be decided in German brown coal or lignite regions "but in China, India and the United States."

"She presumably was trying to impress the participants at the World Climate Conference," said Hülsmeier, referring to Hendrick's expected participation at the Paris summit starting next week.

Praise from Greenpeace, energy commentator

"At last somebody in the federal government has declared that the coal exit needs a timetable," Greenpeace energy expert Tobias Austrup said, referring to Gabriel's drafting of contentious mothballing plans for older coal-fired plants agreed in Berlin earlier this year.

"If Merkel leaves the environment minister standing in the rain then the credibility of the brown coal world champion Germany on the climate issue will be damaged," said Austrup.

He added that Merkel must show that her promise - made at June's G7-summit in Bavaria - on so-called "decarbonization" meant that exits from fossil fuels such as coal and oil must be "more than just hot air."

Hannelore Kraft SPD

Kraft says Hendricks' out of step with SPD policy

Prominent German commentator, Claudia Kemfert, who heads the energy section of the German DIW Institute for Economic Research, agreed with Hendricks, telling the "Frankfurt Rundschau" newspaper that a coal exit timetable was "overdue."

"Coal-fired power stations and not compatible with a renewables-based energy transformation; they produce too much greenhouse gas emissions and are too inflexible in combination with renewable energy sources," Kemfert said.

Numerous Germany-funded projects

The inner-German debate just days out from the Paris summit coincided on Thursday with a German NDR public television report on exports of German coal-power technologies coupled with German state bank funding worth billions to foreign countries, including in sun-drenched Greece.

Germany's coal technology export drive ran counter to the German public's belief that the federal government was a climate protection trendsetter in promoting wind and solar-power generation, said NDR's investigative program "Panorama." A modern "clean coal" power station had twice the carbon pollution output compared to a natural gas-fired station, it added.

Panorama cited the new "Ptolermaida" coal-fired power station due for completion in 2019 and being build in northern Greece by Hitachi Europe, a concern based in NRW's city of Duisburg - a project funded via a 730 million euro ($776-million) loan from Germany's taxpayer-funded KFW development bank.

Without the German loan contribution "the project would not have come about," said Vasilis Kikis, a professor at the technical university in the northern Greek city of Kozani.

"It binds us for decades to the use of coal-fired electricity," said his mine engineering colleague, Professor Lazaros Tsikritzis. "We are in position one or two in Europe for potential solar energy."

"The most important raw resource for Greece is not the brown coal but the sun and the wind," added Kikis.

Claudia Kemfert

Energy commentator Kemfert backs Hendricks' call

Modernization important, says Gabriel

Questioned on such projects, Economy Minster Gabriel said Germany was only exporting modern technology.

"We promote only the coal technologies that so to speak minimize emissions. It is preferable that we offer the best technologies, for example in China, or in Brazil, rather than the old technologies used there," Gabriel said.

Panorama said similar German coal technology funding approvals were in place for four countries: Australia, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine.

"For 10 more, export loan queries are pending," said Panorama, listing Turkey, Vietnam, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Croatia as well as other projects in South Africa, Russia and Greece.

Since 2006, Germany's credit "injections" abroad for coal-fired power amounted to three-and-half billion euros, Panorama said, reminding viewers that coal accounted for a quarter of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions blamed for climate warming.

Coal 'obstructing' solar, wind generation

Annalena Baerbock, the climate expert of the Greens party in the German federal parliament, said the Greek Ptolermaida project would bind Greece to coal-fired power for up to 50 years although "one actually says that we want to give up fossil fuels in the next 30 years."

"That means, their economic perspectives are being obstructed, whereby they (the Greeks) could switch to renewable energies - flexible, highly modern, neutral power generation," Baerbock told Panorama.

ipj/sms (dpa, NDR)

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