Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet has approved a new energy strategy that extends a deadline to shut down nuclear reactors. Opposition leaders say it’s a blow to the growing renewable energy sector.
Nuclear energy is a contentious issue with environmentalists
Cabinet ministers in Berlin on Tuesday presented a new energy concept which they called exemplary and unmatched in the world, and which includes a controversial extension to Germany's nuclear power plants.
"The concept is not just a vision," said Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen in Berlin. "By 2050, about 80 percent of all energy consumed in this country will come from renewable sources, but on the way to this age we need nuclear power for an interim period to make this happen."
Under the new plan, the deadline to shut down Germany's nuclear power plants would be extended by an average of 12 years, with the last one running until 2036.
Merkel and her government say the extension is needed to keep Germany running until renewable energy sources can supply the country with enough energy to replace what is produced by nuclear plants.
Merkel's cabinet insists the extension is necessary
"A longer lifespan for nuclear power plants will help us keep energy prices affordable for both private consumers and industry," said Economics Minister Rainer Bruederle. "And it'll be easier for us to reduce harmful gas emissions."
Effects on renewable energy
That's an argument that the opposition reject. Both Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the SPD, and Juergen Trittin, co-chairman of the Greens, said the government's plan would hurt the renewable energy industry with providers having to compete with nuclear energy to get a foothold in the market. Both Trittin and Gabriel are former environment ministers under previous coalition governments.
"With its energy plan, the government is about to block the creation of 300,000 new jobs in the renewables sector," Gabriel told German public broadcaster ARD. "Many small and medium-sized firms involved in generating renewable energy are now being put under increasing pressure."
The new plan also includes a tax on uranium fuel rods that Bruederle said would generate 2.3 billion euros ($3.1 billion) in government revenue annually. A renewable energy fund would also be established that would collect 300 million euros from power companies each year.
Without a majority in the Bundesrat, Merkel hopes to bypass the upper house
Constitutional Court battle brewing
The opposition is also displeased by suggestions from the government that the plan only needs the approval of the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, and not the Bundesrat, the upper house, which represents the country's 16 states.
Merkel's coalition of conservative Christian Democrats, their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union and the liberal Free Democrats argues that the nuclear plant deadline is a federal issue, not a state matter.
The governing coalition lost its majority in the Bundesrat in the state election in North Rhine-Westphalia in May. It still has a majority in the Bundestag.
The opposition has said if the government does bypass the Bundesrat, it will go to the country's Constitutional Court.
Authors: Hardy Graupner, Holly Fox (apn/dpa)
Editor: Chuck Penfold