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The Costs of Green Dreams
"Green" Germany Mulls Razing Villages for Coal

The great irony of Germany’s energiewende—its recent “green” energy transformation—has been a sudden revival of the country’s coal industry. In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Berlin elected to bow to public pressure and phase out its  nuclear reactors. At the same time, it heavily subsidized wind and solar energy with guaranteed above-market prices for producers. But this wasn’t a like-for-like replacement. Nuclear energy is a baseload power source, while renewables—which struggle to produce when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining—are best used as a supplementary source for when demand peaks over the course of a day. Which is why, after Germany shut down its (zero-emissions) nuclear power plants, it has had to start digging up one of the dirtiest fossil fuels around: brown coal. And, as the NYT reports, the energy imperative to get that coal out of the ground may bring about the razing of entire villages as a kind of collateral damage.

It may not be the end of the world, but it could be the end of Atterwasch, population 241. While Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised her country a future virtually free of fossil fuels, it may seem strange that this village in eastern Germany, and two neighboring ones, are still fighting plans to wipe them, quite literally, off the map.

But Germany’s sudden hunger for coal has emerged as the dirty side of Ms. Merkel’s ambitions to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022 and eventually move Germans mostly to renewable energy. In fact, last year Germany burned more brown coal than at any time since its Communist-era factories began closing in 1990, according to AG Energiebilanzen, an association that tracks energy consumption.

When nuclear plants fail, they often do so in spectacular and devastating fashion, as we saw in Chernobyl and Fukushima. But the technology and safeguards in place have come a long way since Chernobyl, and most countries aren’t as dangerously situated along tectonic faults the way Japan is. Properly sited, the risks of disaster are minuscule, which makes Germany’s decision to shut it all down curious (if we’re being kind).

But the German greens got their way, and are now reaping what they sowed: rising electricity costs, rising emissions, and rising coal use. Environmentalists held up Germany as a global green paragon at the start of the energiewende; its spectacular failure is a warning to the rest of the world of the dangers of letting starry-eyed greens push through reactionary energy policies.

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  • skhpcola

    But, but, the ecotards have intoned repeatedly that “renewables” are the salvation of Gaia! Of course, they don’t understand the distinction betwixt “baseload” power and highly-variable and unreliable power from “renewable” sources. What is so often promoted as “sustainable” really ain’t.

    • Jim__L

      The worst part is, baseload power plants work most cost-efficiently when they aren’t idled whenever the unreliable “green” producers manage to make their contribution.

      Solar power will not be a baseload source until technology has sufficiently advanced to put solar plants in space.

  • Andrew Allison

    Another semi-final solution

  • Gary Hemminger

    Great article, but I wish that it would have discussed how the current German energy sector has been decimated in value by the energiewende. The fossil fuel companies have lost tremendous value in German and don’t want to invest, as wind and solar steal their profits when they are generating power. The poor energy companies in Germany can’t make any money and aren’t investing in natural gas, because the green fuels steal their profits. this is why coal has had to be added to the mix. What a terrible policy this has been in Germany, but some have called for greater green investment. This is going to end badly, yet the Obama administration wants to do the same thing. Thank god that private property rights in the US have allowed fracking to power the US with nat gas and oil.

  • ljgude

    I am not terribly fussed over the fate of those villages – its good practice for the next time Germany invades Poland. (Yes, I know, I am being totally unfair.)

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Any country which has fallen for the Hoax of “Global Warming” deserves to suffer for the failure of their BS Detector.

  • Boritz

    rising electricity costs, rising emissions, and rising coal use.

    Rising costs is a goal of the Greens. One out of three is a start.

  • AldivosTarril

    There is no evidence offered for the assertion that the Energiewende is the cause of a brief uptick in coal use. That’s because it’s a nonsense claim. The small short-term increase in coal is due to many factors, including cold weather and cheap coal prices. The long-term trend is clearly down.

    Of course, for those who are ideologically opposed to the clean energy revolution (either because of sociopathic self-interest, or some rabid rightwing agenda) then all Bad Things are due to the growth of clean energy.

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