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Sunday, April 2, 2023

Energy: Coal phase-out: Habeck’s balancing act in Lusatia

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Actually, the Economics Minister does not want to talk about the hot topic, but an earlier phase-out of coal is causing unrest in Lusatia. The Greens politician also has funding decisions with him when he visits.

The Black Pump lignite-fired power plant is running at full speed, the large cooling towers can be seen from afar, huge clouds of steam are escaping. Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck gets out of the car and walks past trainees and employees who have gathered at the power plant. You have many questions for the Green politician. “Future here? Future we?” is written on posters held by young women. The Leag power plants are to remain connected to the grid until 2038, as the last ones in Germany – this is what the current legal situation envisages. If Habeck has his way, it should be over by 2030, as in the Rhenish Revier. The resistance has long been forming in Lusatia.

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Habeck actually wants to take a trip into the future on a visit to Lusatia on Wednesday. In the course of the far-reaching structural change, a model region for the energy transition is to be created. And so, in the morning, the guest from Berlin handed over a funding decision in the amount of 28.5 million euros for a hydrogen storage power plant. It is to be built by 2025 and become one of the “beacons” of structural change, for which the federal government wants to spend billions. For Brandenburg’s Economics Minister Jörg Steinbach (SPD), the pilot project is a blueprint for the power plants of the future.

Building up instead of exiting

It’s always a pleasure to debate an exit, but it’s about a build-up, says Habeck. He praises the “absolute will” of the project company to create something new. The pilot project threatened to fail twice due to financing, now it can officially start – satisfied faces in the industrial park.

The situation is different at the Schwarze Pumpe power plant. Habeck is welcomed by young employees of the operator Leag, who are worried about their future. Their spokeswoman Linda Rudolph brought the text of the contract on a cardboard sign and tried to persuade Habeck to sign it, but was unsuccessful in the end. Central point: The consensus of society as a whole on the coal phase-out should not be called into question.

This is aimed at the work of the coal commission with representatives from business, trade unions and municipalities, among others, which had recommended an end to climate-damaging coal-fired power generation step by step by 2038 – the federal government has implemented this.

In the meantime, however, it has been decided for the Rhenish mining area in North Rhine-Westphalia that the phase-out of coal will be brought forward by eight years. This increases the pressure on the East. Habeck had said that an early exit by 2030 would have to be agreed by consensus. He didn’t actually want to talk about the topic in Lusatia on Wednesday, but it’s omnipresent.

Habeck’s statements about an exit as early as 2030 would have caused uncertainty, says Leag Group works council chief Uwe Teubner. People should be able to rely on decisions made at once. In terms of structural change, there are many projects in the pipeline, but nothing has been achieved yet.

No shaking of the exit date 2038

Leag boss Thorsten Kramer emphasizes that the exit date of 2038 should not be shaken: “First expansion, then exit.” The law on the end of coal-fired power generation applies. The company has done its “homework,” he clarifies, meaning, among other things, the construction of Germany’s largest center for renewable energies. With an output of seven gigawatts, four million households could be safely supplied with ecological electricity in the future. The photovoltaic and wind power plants are to be implemented by 2030 on former mining areas in the region.

Addressing Habeck, Kramer says: “We have a common goal: the conversion to renewable energies with simultaneous security of supply.” He assumes that the coal-fired power plants will continue to run for some time.

Habeck, meanwhile, praises the “breathtaking change” in the Leag and its restructuring. Negotiations about an early exit from coal would be conducted elsewhere. He also refers to the development of CO2 certificates and makes it clear that this could make the operation of coal-fired power plants uneconomical from 2030.

Companies must demonstrate rights to emit climate-damaging greenhouse gases and can trade with each other if necessary. The number of these certificates is to be reduced more. In addition, free allowances for industry are gradually being phased out.

80 percent of electricity from renewable sources in 2030

The League has other model calculations for this. Kramer makes it clear that Leag wants to invest in hydrogen-capable gas power plants – but that has to pay off. The federal government has set itself the goal: in 2030, 80 percent of the electricity should come from renewable energies such as wind and sun, currently it is about half. But there are still many stumbling blocks, planning and approval procedures for new wind turbines and solar systems, for example, still take far too long.

But 80 percent also means that for the rest, among other things, hydrogen-capable power plants are to be produced – which step in when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. But the energy industry complains that the investment conditions have not been right so far. Habeck now wants to set incentives and soon present a power plant strategy.

The Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND), meanwhile, warns against a lack of transparency and Habeck going it alone in the negotiations with the Leag. The failure of the green climate policy in Lützerath must not be repeated in the east, says BUND chairman Olaf Bandt.

Source: Stern

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