German politicians row over energy future

Oct. 1, 2010 at 1:34 PM
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BERLIN, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- German Cabinet ministers and opposition leaders Friday in parliament exchanged heavy blows over the government's new energy strategy.

Heated arguments, angry heckling and frequent recriminations: The Bundestag Friday saw its most heated debate in months. At stake was Germany's energy future, laid out by the government in a comprehensive strategy paper it wants to turn into law this fall.

The bill includes several measures to boost energy efficiency, renewables and carbon dioxide reductions. What drives the opposition mad, however, is a decision to extend the life of the country's 17 nuclear reactors for another 12 years on average beyond the previously scheduled 2021 phase-out date.

The government says it wants to keep nuclear in the mix as a stable, reliable and cost-effective energy source until renewables can take over completely.

"We want electricity to be available at any time and without interruption," Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle said Friday. "That's why our energy plan stands for reliability, it stands for climate protection and it stands for affordable energy prices."

Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen called the bill a "milestone" of Germany's energy and environmental policy.

The government, however, with its decision goes against the majority of the population. Germans are largely opposed to nuclear power and the opposition says the current agreement, struck on Sept. 5 after marathon talks in the chancellery, is but a gift to the country's main utilities -- Eon, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall Europe.

"The utilities sadly don't only set the prices but they also decide what the government and the majority of this parliament does and that damages democracy," Gregor Gisy, the head of the far left Left Party and one of the most outspoken critics of the energy strategy, said Friday in his speech before parliamentarians.

The strategy update, long called for by energy experts, sets out strategies to achieve "a clean, reliable and affordable energy supply" until 2050, and experts laud its ambitious clean energy targets.

Germany aims to boost the share of renewables to 80 percent of the electricity consumption by 2050, halve Germany's energy consumption by 2050 and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The nuclear industry in exchange for longer running times -- which will hand them massive extra profits -- agreed to pay around $380 million per year to support renewables and climate protection efforts, with total contributions to amount to $19 billion, the government said. The industry agreed to pay a new "fuel rod" tax of around $2 billion per year starting in 2011. The tax is less than expected and limited to six years -- a clear negotiation victory for the utilities, observers say.

Juergen Trittin from the Green Party, which championed the anti-nuclear movement in Europe and was part of the coalition government that drafted the German nuclear phase-out plan 10 years ago, Friday accused the government of selling off nuclear safety.

Roettgen, normally a calm-headed and contained politician, fired back angrily, accusing Trittin of being a "loudmouth who won't get anything done."

Roettgen said he would support the new energy strategy, "which we stand for, which we will defend and above all we will implement, against your envy and your protests, because it's good for our country."

The bill will likely sail through parliament as the government has a necessary majority in the Bundestag but the opposition and several state governments have vowed to challenge it in court.

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