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Germany’s clean energy plan backfires – Move away from nuclear power drove it right back to coal

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Desdemona Despair

By Lindsay Abrams
30 July 2013

(Salon) – When a nuclear power plant closes, a coal plant opens. At least, that’s the way things are shaping up in Germany, where the move away from nuclear energy appears to have backfired.

For the second consecutive year, according to Bloomberg, the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions are set to increase.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made headlines back in 2011 when, in the wake of the reactor meltdown in Tokyo, she announced the impending closure of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors. Up until then, nuclear-generated energy contributed to a full quarter of the nation’s electricity.

At the time, the closings were framed as a positive effort to increase the country’s use of clean energy. As an expert then predicted to the New York Times: “If the government goes ahead with what it said it would do, then Germany will be a kind of laboratory for efforts worldwide to end nuclear power in an advanced economy.”

But predictably, when nuclear plants began to shut down, as eight immediately did, something else had to take its place. And coal, which according to Bloomberg is favored by the market, did just that. [more]

Germany’s clean energy plan backfired 

By Stefan Nicola; Editing by Reed Landberg
29 July 2013

(Bloomberg) – Germany’s air pollution is set to worsen for a second year, the first back-to-back increase since at least the 1980s, after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to shut nuclear plants led utilities to burn more coal.

The nation, which is seeking to lead European climate-protection efforts, probably will produce higher greenhouse-gas emissions in 2013 on top of a 1.5 percent gain last year, according to the DIW economic institute, which acts as an adviser to the government.

Utilities led by RWE AG (RWE) and EON SE boosted hard coal imports 25 percent in the first quarter to 10 million metric tons, the nation’s Coal Importers Association said. With elections due in September, the move is a blow to Merkel, a former environment minister who helped negotiate the 1997 Kyoto accord curbing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“The trend of rising German CO2 emissions is alarming,” said Claudia Kemfert, who heads the energy unit at the Berlin-based DIW. “Climate protection is a key target of the government and greenhouse gases should fall, not climb.”

Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel and is blamed by scientists for contributing to global warming. Merkel opted to shut nuclear power plants after an earthquake in Japan two years ago resulted in meltdowns at reactors owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)

Merkel’s government is seeking to more than triple the share of renewable power consumed in Germany by 2050. Coal has become cheaper than natural gas for power generators, helping the more dirty fuel gain share in the energy mix of Europe’s largest economy. The shift has been noticed by environmental campaigners and threatens to fuel the election debate.

“The increase of coal is disastrous for climate policy and a bad signal for progress of Germany’s energy switch,” said Gerald Neubauer, a campaigner for Greenpeace, which demonstrated against lignite strip-mining at three locations in Berlin and in neighboring Brandenburg on July 26. “The Merkel government doesn’t do enough to protect the climate anymore.”  […]

Even so, Germany emitted the equivalent of 931 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents last year, which was up from 917 million tons the year before, the Environment Ministry said in February.

“We must make sure that this was an exception and that it doesn’t become a trend that’s repeated,” Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said then.

“We’re tracking this development with great concern,” Juergen Maass, a spokesman for the Environment Ministry, said July 26 by phone, declining to comment further.

Merkel in 2011 ordered the country’s eight oldest atomic reactors that provided near CO2-free power to be unplugged. She wants to shut the remaining nine by 2022.

To fill the gap, her government wants utilities to build 10,000 megawatts of modern gas- and coal-fired generators this decade, replacing older plants. She also unleashed a boom in wind and solar power construction.

So far, mainly coal plants have gotten the go-ahead. Gas plants, which run mostly in the middle of the day when demand peaks, are losing money as the surging number of wind and solar plants flood the grid with cheap power. [more]

Merkel’s Green Shift Backfires as German Pollution Jumps

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