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Habeck's secret plans: Economics Minister suddenly wants to rely on dirty coal – by Thomas Schmidt for Berliner Zeitung – 11.01.24

Exclusive: An internal SPD document reveals a change of direction by the Minister for Economic Affairs regarding the coal phase-out.


Economics Minister Robert Habeck is under pressure. His current energy policy could leave Green voters shaking their heads.


It was the major project for the green transformation of power generation in Germany - and perhaps the most dazzling energy policy project of the traffic light coalition: following the completed nuclear phase-out and the intended early phase-out of coal, natural gas was to serve as a bridging technology - towards a new, green electricity world in Germany.


What is meant is a bridge to a new electricity world in which renewable energies, i.e. primarily solar and wind, set the pace. Angela Merkel had already mapped out this transition as Chancellor. As a "backup" for the dark doldrums, i.e. whenever the sun is not shining brightly enough in Germany and the wind is not blowing strongly enough, new, highly efficient and, according to Habeck, preferably already hydrogen-capable natural gas power plants should step in to secure the electricity supply in future.


This is the plan of the German government and, above all, its Minister of Economic Affairs Robert Habeck. This plan also has a name: the so-called power plant strategy. This strategy was designed to incentivise the construction of at least 15 gigawatts of new gas-fired power plants in Germany, which means building at least 30 large power plants by 2030. This is already a challenge. But then came Russia's war against Ukraine. And then came the austerity policy of the Federal Minister of Finance and, most recently, the budget crisis at the end of 2023.

 

But first things first: The war quickly made it clear that natural gas for Germany would essentially only be available via pipeline from Norway or in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG). From a chemical point of view, LNG is natural gas, but it is liquid and 162 degrees cold. But it is also quite expensive and quite dirty.


Expensive is relative for some people these days. Not dirty: in the USA, LNG is produced by fracking, then has to be cooled down to minus 162 degrees using a great deal of energy and then shipped across the world's oceans on tankers that use heavy oil and refinery waste as fuel, a labour-intensive and emissions-intensive process.


At the North Sea and Baltic Sea ports, the energy is to be fed into the German natural gas pipeline network via floating LNG terminals, which were hastily purchased after the outbreak of war. At least one of these terminals had previously been decommissioned in Australia because the floating vessel was doing anything but good for the coral reefs off the coast.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lubmin: The special ship "Munin R" is travelling on the Greifswald Bodden, transporting excavated material from the work on the connection pipeline for the new Rügen LNG terminal.


Coal-fired power generation became en vogue again after the war


Habeck's plan for the green transformation of German power generation was already somewhat tainted by Putin's war. But tainted in the fog of war and thus largely unnoticed by the wider public. You have to die a death: Germany should become an LNG importer rather than buying pipeline natural gas from the warmonger. The sabotage of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was another factor in the decision. There seemed to be no alternative to Habeck's plan.


In the meantime, the Federal Minister of Economics has run into a second problem with his plan. This time it is more directly about money, namely German taxpayers' money. After the ministries and the coalition partners had discussed an initial concept for the power plant strategy, which Habeck proudly announced in August, it became clear that the power plant strategy is not only at least as big a deal in terms of EU state aid law as the CSU's car toll, but it will also be quite expensive.

 

60 billion euros for 15 years was on the cards in the autumn. Couldn't it be cheaper, the Federal Minister of Finance will have already asked. And the question was also already in the air: if nuclear power is no longer available to step into the breach, could coal-fired power generation be an alternative?


Then came the budget crisis. The Federal Ministry of Economics informed the members of the Bundestag's Energy Committee that the power plant strategy was "on hold for the short term". In the new plans for the federal budget, which became known on Wednesday in the so-called adjustment bill, the funding for the strategy has been postponed by two years. In other words, significantly into the next parliamentary term.


Whether the strategy will then materialise and what it will look like is therefore more questionable than ever. It is now clear:


This appears to be the start of a shift that could have existential significance for the Greens in the federal government.


In a draft of the SPD parliamentary group's current work plan for the first half of 2024, which was published in the Berliner Zeitung on 4 January, the power plant strategy is completely missing. This work plan also reflects the plans of the Ministry of Economic Affairs led by Habeck. However, it was still included in the previous document for 2023 with the note that the schedule was "open". Instead, the current SPD document refers to an increase in the use of grid reserve power plants.


That sounds harmless to the layman. However, reserve power plants are essentially coal-fired power plants. More precisely, they are old power plants that are well over 40 years old and whose electricity generation is fuelled by lignite or hard coal. These are power plants that should have been decommissioned a long time ago, but which the Federal Network Agency, led by Green President Klaus Müller, has forbidden to be shut down in order to ensure security of supply and grid stability.



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photo illustration: BLZ. Images: imago

 


 


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