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Germany's Transition to Renewables Becomes Political Liability

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to salvage a plan to increase the country's reliance on renewable energy to at least 35 percent by 2020 amid rising energy prices and mounting criticism
November 5, 2012, 1pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Melissa Eddy reports on Merkel's efforts to develop a nationwide strategy on renewable energy in order to salvage what was once a widely supported plan for energy transformation passed last year in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. 

"Until now," writes Eddy, "each state has drawn up and worked from its own plan for the expansion of renewable resources in its territory, often in conflict with one another. On the federal side, there is no single leader for the project to increase reliance on renewable energy to at least 35 percent by 2020. Instead, responsibilities are divided between the ministries of the environment and the economy, with the education minister responsible for financing research on renewable energy and storage technology." 

"The opposition Social Democratic Party has pounced on the weakness in the Merkel government's signature project ahead of national elections next year, while widespread public support for the plan faces strains from a nearly 50 percent jump in a consumer tax for the transformation next year."

Meanwhile, according to Stanley Reed, Europe in general, and Germany in particular, are seeing a contradictory rise in the use of coal and the construction of coal-fired power plants.

"A kind of economic chain reaction is making coal attractive in Europe," writes Reed. "U.S. utilities are shutting down their coal-fired plants and switching to natural gas because the shale gas revolution has made the cleaner-burning fuel cheaper. U.S. coal producers are then exporting their product to Europe, helping to lower prices there."  

"Utilities will soon need to pay a carbon price for coal, but at the moment that price in the European program for carbon trading - about €8 per ton of carbon emissions - is far too low to affect their decisions."

"What is going on is a shift from nuclear power to coal and from gas to coal; this is the worst thing you could do, from a climate change perspective," said Dieter Helm, a professor of energy policy at the University of Oxford.

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Published on Friday, November 2, 2012 in The New York Times
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