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Criticism of German renewables reforms

Melanie HallJune 2, 2016

Deals brokered by German lawmakers over reforms to curtail the expansion of renewables have left environmental campaigners up in arms. They say it is reversing years of progress - and putting the climate at risk.

Wind farm in Renzow, Germany - photo credit dpa.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Büttner

Hailed as a "breakthrough" by some, Germany reached an agreement this week over a framework that paves the way for the country's renewable energy law, in a bid to slow the spread of renewables and keep consumer costs under control.

On Tuesday (31.05.2016), talks between the federal and 16 state governments continued into the early hours as they hammered out the details of the planned reform of the Renewable Energy Act (EEG). Under the agreement, the expansion of onshore wind will be limited to 2.8 gigawatts in capacity per year, translating into around 1,000 wind turbines.

And on Wednesday, leaders of the three ruling parties in the coalition government struck a deal on upper limits for government-supported biomass energy, clearing the path for the planned reform to come into effect in 2017. The cabinet could approve the package on Monday (06.06.2016).

Under the deal reached between Social Democrats, the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union, biomass energy production will be expanded by 150 megawatts in the first three years after the law takes force, and then by 200 megawatts in the three years that follow.

Protestors demonstrate against energy transition reforms from the German government - photo credit Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energien
"Don't govern the energy transition to death!" eco-campaigners demandImage: Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energien

'Reversing progress'

Generous subsidies for green power have led to a boom in Germany's renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. But the rapid expansion has strained Germany's grid, and helped drive up electricity costs.

Among the points of contention, was how renewable energy sources should be expanded over the next decade. By 2025, the federal government wants 40 to 45 percent of electricity to be provided by green power sources, with the share currently standing at around 30 percent.

While lawmakers congratulated themselves on reaching compromises, the reaction from some quarters was bewilderment over what they see as reversing a decade and a half of hard-fought progress.

Critics say limiting the onshore wind power would endanger Germany's long-term energy goals and put jobs in the sector at risk.

Climate in the crosshairs

Hubert Weiger, chairman of environmental organization Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (Bund), slammed the plans as a "bag full of lazy compromises at the expense of climate conservation."

Solar energy panels near a branch of Ikea in Rothenburg, Germany - photo credit BE Netz
The reforms aim to slow the spread of renewables in GermanyImage: BE Netz/CH-Ebikon

"It's a backwards-looking policy of thwarting the energy transition at the expense of the general public and the climate," he said.

"The whole thing throttles down the expansion of green power and will force citizen energy corporations abroad," Weiger said.

Julia Verlinden, energy policy spokeswoman for the Green Party fraction in the German parliament, said that the recent decisions over the renewable energy reforms meant the government had "shelved" climate protection.

"The government is continuing to look for ways to keep filthy coal-fired power stations in the market for as long as possible," she said. "With this anti-energy transition policy, Germany will certainly fail to hit its climate targets. Without strong renewable energy, there can't be adequate climate protection."

Renewables must 'stand on their own two feet'

For their part, reform supporters lambasted subsidies for wind energy - with Volker Kauder, leader of the Christian Democrat faction in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, saying ahead of this week's discussions that the "good intentions" of promoting wind farms are no longer relevant, as he says they don't provide enough energy to the grid.

An offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Germany - photo credit Blickwinkel
Consumers carry too much of the cost of supporting renewables, say reform supportersImage: imago/blickwinkel

Johann Wackerbauer, a senior economist at the think tank Ifo Center for Energy, Climate and Exhaustible Resources, welcomed the move to slow down the expansion of renewable energy, telling DW that it is a "step in the right direction."

Energy-intensive companies also support the reform, calling for more competition in the energy market.

With summer recess just weeks away, the German government was under growing pressure to finalize the reform package - these reforms still need to be approved by parliament. Failing to do so could also affect the start date for the reform to be implemented.

Berlin has already agreed with the European Commission upon an effective date of January 1, 2017.