Anti-coal protesters in Germany

All German coal plants to be shut down by 2038

Image credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Germany is set to close all of its coal-fired plants and shift towards a reliance on renewable energy within the next two decades.

The recommendation was made by a government-appointed ‘coal commission’ made up of 28 voting representatives from political parties, environmental groups, academia and industry. The commission has been working since last summer to agree on a timetable for phasing out the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

Following a final marathon 20 hours of discussions, the commission reached an agreed schedule in which coal will be entirely phased out by 2038 at the latest. Chair of the commission Ronald Pofalla described the agreement as an “historic accomplishment”.

The plan must now be implemented by the central government and its 16 regional states. Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to accept the recommendations.

The commission has proposed that an independent panel assesses how effectively the government is handling the transition with regards to prices, supply and jobs in 2023, 2026 and 2029. The country currently has 84 operational coal-fired plants, of which 24 will need to be closed within three years in order to comply with the commission’s proposals. Just eight coal-fired plants would remain by 2030, with the final plant closing by 2038 at the latest. Predictably, there has been some disagreement over the deadline, with the coal industry warning of “serious consequences” of the timeline while environmental groups have criticised the deadline as unambitious.

“Less CO2, more new jobs, a secure power supply and affordability: a strong signal,” Peter Altmaier, the minister for economic affairs and energy, commented on Twitter. Altmaier later confirmed in an appearance on ARD that the coalition government would be taking on the recommendations quickly.

He said that a “whole series of laws” would be necessary in order to support the transition, such as by securing new jobs, and that some funding had already been allocated to begin the transition in the 2019 budget. This is “one of the most challenging transformational processes in the last decades,” he said.

At least €40bn (£35bn) is expected to be paid out to the regions affected by the decision. Approximately 20,000 jobs in Germany are directly linked to the coal industry.

Eric Schweitzer, president of the German Chambers of Commerce, welcomed the phase-out but warned that it could drive electricity prices higher. However, Svenja Schulze, the environment minister, said that analysis completed by her ministry demonstrates that the changes would not lead to higher electricity prices.

Schulze said that regions heavily involved in coal production would remain important in the German energy market in the coming years, with investment in renewables, climate protection and new technologies.

Last year, renewables made up 41 per cent of Germany’s total energy mix, beating coal for the first time and making them collectively the leading source of electricity. Since the government announced a phase out of nuclear power in 2011, following the Fukushima disaster, it has promoted a gradual transition to renewables as the principle source of electricity.

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