Germany Has Agreed to Phase Out Coal by 2038. What Happens Next?

A German commission last month said the country, one of
Europe’s lingering bastions of coal generation, should phase out
the fuel source by 2038. 

“This is an historic accomplishment,” Ronald Pofalla, chairman
of the 28-member government commission, said at a news conference
after the negotiations concluded. “It was anything but a sure
thing. But we did it.”

But the work isn’t done yet. According to Gregor Kessler of
Greenpeace Germany, there’s still a lot to do.

“The first thing to bear in mind is that the commission’s
report is still only a recommendation at this stage. However,
it’s one that was specifically commissioned by the government,
with a near-unanimous vote,” Kessler said. “It would be
irritating if it is not put into a legislative framework,” he
added.

That seems unlikely, though. The landmark deal, achieved only
after fraught discussions over the target date of completion,
looked to keep mining interests happy by injecting the equivalent
of €40 billion ($46 billion) over 20 years into coal-dependent
regions.

It is proposed that this financial aid should be enshrined in a
special coal industry restructuring law, so beneficiaries know for
sure they can count on the support in coming years.

Meanwhile, said Kessler, climate-related parts of the proposal
are due to go into a climate act that the government has promised
for later this year. The wide-ranging act is due to cover not only
energy but also transport, agriculture, industry and housing.

It will set out how these sectors need to be restructured to
meet a 2030 target of 55 percent lower carbon emissions than in
1990. The aim is to have a first draft of the law before the summer
break, Kessler said, although there are fears it could be delayed
until autumn.

For the energy sector, the big issue will be how to bring about
the coal commission’s recommendation of removing 7.7 gigawatts of
hard coal and 5 gigawatts of lignite generation capacity from the
grid by 2022.

“Merkel’s government has to identify which plants will be
switched off to meet these reductions and has to find a financial
agreement with the utilities,” Kessler said.

Coal phaseout still “not enough”

Another short-term issue for the government is how to resolve
problems linked to Hambach Forest, an ancient woodland habitat that
is due to be cleared by landowner RWE to make way for extensions to
Europe’s largest open-pit lignite mine.

The forest has long been a flashpoint for environmental protests
and was singled out by the coal commission, which was set up in
June 2018, as being in need of protection. With all this, it is
clear that the coal commission’s recommendations will take a
while to implement.

The European policy newswire
Euractiv cited
Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy
Peter Altmaier as saying it could take at least a few months to
address the legal questions raised by the phaseout, although the
budget for the support program was already in place.

Environmental interests are keen to see the proceedings move
forward as quickly as possible. Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace
International’s executive director, said: “This coal phaseout
timeline still overshoots what climate science and people
everywhere need.”

In
a press release
published in association with the Friends of
the Earth Germany and the nature conservation body Deutscher
Naturschutzring, Greenpeace said the commission’s report was
“not enough for climate protection.”

The associations both “firmly assume the end of coal will come
before 2035,” it said.

Replacing baseload capacity

The political will to achieve this may exist. Germany has
already conceded it will miss its 2020 emissions target, which the

Financial Times said
was “a severe embarrassment for a
country that once prided itself on its green leadership.”

German lignite and hard coal generation capacity has fallen from
48.9 gigawatts in 2008 to 45.4 gigawatts last year, based on
figures from
Clean Energy Wire
. However, the two fossil fuels still
accounted for more than 35 percent of all generation in 2018, the
figures show.

That’s almost exactly the same proportion as renewables, with
natural gas and nuclear making up most of the remainder.

Since Germany is phasing out nuclear, too, the country will
effectively have to replace 47 percent of its baseload capacity
with new forms of generation in the coming years. It will be
interesting to see how the world’s fourth-largest economy rises
to the challenge.

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
Germany Has Agreed to Phase Out Coal by 2038. What Happens Next?