Old King Coal Reigns
“Green” Germany Can’t Bring Itself to Spurn Coal

Berlin is caving to the demands of its coal industry, nixing a proposed extra charge on older, dirtier coal-fired power plants. The FT reports:

The levy was proposed in March as a way of pushing power producers into make deeper cuts in carbon emissions. Germany wants to cut CO2 emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, including 22m tonnes in emissions from the power sector. […]

According to a person with knowledge of the discussions, Berlin will now looking at alternative ways of cutting CO2 emissions, including mothballing three gigawatts of its 49 gigawatts of coal-fired power capacity.

Germany has very publicly positioned itself as a green leader, touting its energy transformation (called the energiewende) as a cutting-edge, eco-friendly raft of energy policies. But for such a supposedly environmentally-friendly policy, the energiewende has produced some surprisingly brown outcomes. By shuttering its nuclear reactors (sources of baseload zero-carbon power), Berlin has had to rely more heavily on coal to keep the lights on. To make matters worse, the coal Germany mines and burns is of a particularly dirty variety.

True, heavy government subsidization has kick-started its fledgling renewables industry, but wind and solar can’t supplant nuclear as an energy source because they’re incapable of providing power round the clock. What good these renewables have done to lower German emissions has been largely offset by its burgeoning appetite for lignite, which is why Berlin moved to slap extra charges on its coal plants.

Balancing the jobs and relatively cheap energy that coal production provides against the emissions reductions that shuttering those plants can accomplish isn’t any easy task for any government, but Germany’s problem is particularly notable because it’s one of its own making.

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