Merkel allies pile on the pressure to keep coal plants running
Germany’s states are upping pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to keep coal-fired power for as long as 30 years as the nation approaches a deadline for setting an exit date from the fossil fuel.
Merkel’s administration is committed to shuttering about 120 lignite and hard-coal plants to cut emissions and plans to set a final exit point in October. As the deadline nears, six states where coal power is concentrated have banded together to keep an extended lifeline for the stations.
“A 25- to 30-year time frame to close the chapter on coal power is realistic,” said Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer in an interview in Leipzig on Tuesday. “We need time to reset regional economies now dependent on coal.”
Merkel faces tough choices. Coal states run by the same parties that make up her federal coalition fret that a rapid reduction of fossil-fuel plants will leave a huge economic hole in their regions and threaten the security of power supplies. But hard coal and lignite push out about a third of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, which Merkel is committed to cutting.
The six states, which includes North-Rhine Westphalia, home to utilities RWE AG, Uniper SE and STEAG GmbH, this week petitioned a group set up by Merkel to plot a coal exit, demanding that it strikes a balance between climate goals, energy security and power prices.
The 28-member “coal commission” of government aides, labor unions, utilities and environmentalists tasked with setting a coal power exit date, mapping out closures and spelling out how to substitute coal power.
State premiers such as Kretschmer and the leaders of North-Rhine Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt, Saarland, Brandenburg and Lower Saxony are concerned that Germany’s lackluster record in cutting emissions may tempt Merkel to seek a quick fix by closing some of the oldest coal plants.
“The temptation is there,” said Kretschmer. “That would be premature indeed.”
As many as 65,000 direct and indirect jobs hang on coal power generation and lignite mining, according to Psephos GmbH, a think tank. Saxony, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt — all signatories of this week’s letter to the commission — face regional elections next year, which will be fought by the populist Alternative for Germany party.
Kretschmer and other coal-state leaders say they’re ardent supporters of Germany’s Energy Shift.
“The crux is we have to get it right,” said Brandenburg Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke in Leipzig. “There are 40 coal regions in the EU and they’re all watching what Germany does. Get it wrong and we’ll be a role model for none.”