Business, labor urge German politicos to unite on energy transition

Oct. 25, 2013 at 12:05 AM
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BERLIN, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- A coalition of business groups and unions this week jointly warned German political leaders must unite to keep the country's energy transition plans alive.

Negotiations between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democrats to form a "grand coalition" government began Wednesday in Berlin, and business and union leaders used the occasion to warn they must avoid the policy splits that plagued the former CDU-Free Democratic Party pairing if the energy transition is to survive.

The German industry groups BDI and BDA and trade unions IG BCE and IG Metall issued a joint statement saying the new government needs to speak with one voice on the energy transition, in which Germany has committed to phasing out nuclear power, reducing energy imports and switching to renewable sources such as wind power.

To do that, they said, responsibility for the transition must be "pooled" under one ministry, rather than split among several of them, which led to disagreements and delays in implementation under the former government.

Under that system, the economy ministry, led by the pro-business Free Democrats, fought to keep electricity prices down while the CDU-led environment ministry pushed for more renewable energy development.

"The current legal framework and the competing political responsibilities have led to a huge investment backlog" which has hindered "the development of necessary new transmission lines, the development and creation of storage infrastructure, the development of offshore wind farms and the modernization of existing and creation of new conventional power plant capacity," the groups said.

If the problem isn't resolved quickly, they warned, "then the energy revolution will fail and German industry will be damaged," with manufacturing jobs lost.

"Businesses and consumers need reliable and affordable electricity prices for the future," the statement said.

Meanwhile, quickly rising "green" surcharges levied on electric bills to fund the transition and feed-in tariffs paid to renewable energy producers also need to be reformed to keep energy prices down, the business-labor coalition urged.

"The existing system of feed-in tariffs is one of the main reasons for the significant increases in electricity prices and therefore cannot remain for new installations as it is currently," they said.

Instead, "the aim must be to create reliable investment conditions and stop the rise in electricity prices in Germany. This is a necessary objective for both consumers and the competitiveness of German industry."

In urging for a single government entity to oversee the energy transition, the business-labor group is mirroring the position of the Social Democrats, and is fueling speculation that an independent Department of Energy could be set up in the new government, Der Tasspiegel reported.

North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Hannelore Kraft is leading the energy negotiations for the SPD with the CDU Environment Minister Peter Altmaier. Kraft is considered to be attuned with the coal industry, and Altmaier last year urged a slowdown in the switchover to renewable energies.

That has the Green Party worried about the direction the coalition negotiations are taking.

The two are "practically friends on coal," new party leader Peter Simone told the newspaper. "Altmaier stood for a brake on the expansion of renewable energies" which would primarily benefit coal, while Kraft has "always campaigned for coal" as Prime Minister of North Rhine Westphalia, he said.

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