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Paying the bill

April 16, 2011

A debate is raging among the political parties in Germany over how to pay for shutting down the country's nuclear power plants without causing an economic meltdown.

Nuclear power plant in Grafenrheinfeld
Shutting down nuclear power plants will be costlyImage: picture alliance/dpa

The German government, headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, is set to introduce legislation by mid-June which will ultimately seal the demise of the country's 17 nuclear power stations. Now the focus of the country's energy debate has shifted to the question of how to pay for shutting down Germany's nuclear power plants without disrupting the economy.

The governing coalition of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), have stated flatly that they are opposed to raising taxes to finance the switch.

"I'm opposed to an energy tax," said the designated FDP chairman, Phillip Rösler. "I can assure you: With us there will be no tax hike to finance a changeover to renewable energies," he said.

CDU budget expert Norbert Barthle said "no new austerity packages are needed and I rule out tax increases."

But Barthle injected a caveat when asked by journalists about a possible rise in the cost of electricity.

"I cannot rule out that possible extra costs due to a quicker switch to renewable energies may have to be borne by consumers," he said.

A question of pace

Solar panels and a wind park in northern Germany
Germany is aiming for a renewable energy mixImage: picture-alliance/chromorange

The opposition Social Democrat parliamentary leader, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warned against a hasty retreat from nuclear energy.

"Germany is not just any old country, but rather an important industrial center," he told the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper, emphasizing that energy had to remain affordable for all consumers.

"When we shut down eight nuclear power plants, we produce one third less electricity all at once, and depending on the time of year, this cannot be automatically substituted with renewable energies," Steinmeier said.

He added that Germany's aim has always been to cover its own energy needs itself.

"Buying in nuclear power from abroad is not a solution," he said.

Facts or fear-mongering

Germany's Phillipsburg nucelar power plant
Nuclear energy is on its way out, but who will foot the bill?Image: dapd

The environmentalist Green party, meanwhile, has warned against "fear-mongering" and "hysterical debates" about rising energy costs. Bärbel Höhn, the deputy parliamentary leader of the Greens, said the debate urgently needed solid facts and figures.

Höhn pointed to a government study in 2010, which forecast price increases of just half a cent per kilowatt hour over ten years during a gradual changeover to renewable energies.

Energy experts from the governing coalition, however, issued their own warning on Saturday, saying a quick withdrawal from nuclear power, starting now, would cost about 16 billion euros ($23 billion) over the next four years alone.

This figure, they said, comes from the costs for subsidizing the construction of alternative energy sources, the massive expansion of Germany's electricity grid which would be required to deliver energy from new locations and lost revenues of several billion euros from the nuclear fuel-rod tax introduced just last year.

In addition, they stressed, it was still absolutely unclear, who is going to foot the bill for such an ambitious project.

Author: Gregg Benzow (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)
Editor: Toma Tasovac