The Ethics Commission has presented its official report to Chancellor Merkel. Even before receiving the report, the coalition committee last night reportedly agreed to essentially phase out nuclear power by 2021/2022.
1. Ethics Commission Report
As information was leaked to the media before the presentation, it came as no surprise that the Ethics Commission considers a phase-out feasible within a decade. The Ethics Commission was set up to provide input to the government’s risk assessment of nuclear power following the Fukushima accident.
In its 48-page report, the Ethics Commission suggests a collective effort for Germany’s energy future (Gemeinschaftswerk “Energiezukunft Deutschlands”). The gradual phase-out is seen as an extraordinary challenge. However, the reports considers the taks manageable within a decade, as less risky alternative energy sources were available.
The report contains recommendations for the energy turnaround, covering in particular
- efficient energy use;
- renewable energies;
- capacity markets for base load, system stability and supply;
- fossil fuel power plants; and
- combined heat and power power plants.
Furthermore, the report suggests monitoring the phase out closely. The Ethics Commission recommends to appoint an independent parliamentary representative for the energy turnaround and to create a National Forum Energy Turnaround. The representative shall organise and control the monitoring process, while the National Forum shall organise the public debate.
2. Energy Turnaround Decision
Even before the official release of the Ethics Commission’s report, and substantially in line with the report’s assessment, the coalition committee with high level representatives of the coalition parties (CDU, CSU and FDP) were reported to have agreed to phase out nuclear power until 2021. Three plants may, however, operate until 2022 if necessary.
The seven oldest nuclear power plants, which were shut down in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident, and the Krümmel nuclear power plant shall in principle not go online again. However, one of those plants shall serve as a back-up power plant until 2013.
According to media reports, the coalition last night decided on the following key points in the run-up to a cabinet decision on 6 June 2011:
a) Nuclear Phase-out Until 2021/2022
Nuclear power shall be irreversibly phased out until 2021, with three plants being able to operate as back-up until 2022 if the turnaround does not quite go according to plan.
b) Permanent Shut-down of the Oldest Nuclear Power Plants (One Back-up Power Plant)
The seven oldest nuclear power plants that were shut down following the government’s 3-month moratorium on nuclear power plus the Krümmel power plant shall not resume operation, safe for one plant that shall serve as back-up until 2013. The Federal Network shall reportedly choose the respective back-up plant.
TSOs had recently warned that the security of energy supply may not be guaranteed in southern Germany on very cold winter days with concurrent low wind power generation. The Federal Network Agency issued a similar statement.
c) Nuclear Fuel Rod Tax
The nuclear fuel rod tax that was introduced last year in connection with the nuclear extension, which formed part of the government’s Energy Concept, shall not be abolished. The tax is levied on plutonium and uranium used in the nuclear power plants. The government initially intended to raise EUR 2.3 billion per year. Due to the 3-month shut down of the seven oldest nuclear power plants, the German state already loses roughly EUR 200 million in revenue according to estimates. Lately, E.ON CEO Johannes Teyssen told the press that he reserved the right to take legal action against the tax after the termination of the moratorium. The tax was introduced in return for the nuclear power extension, he argued.
d) Expansion of Grids and New Power Plants
In adition to the already proposed Grid Expansion Acceleration Act (NABEG), the coalition intends to pass legislation accelerating the construction of power plants and storage facilities. The 10 GW of fossil fuel power plants currently under construction must be available by 2013. However, it remains unclear how this shall be achieved. Another 10 GW of secure generation capacity shall be be available by 2020.
e) Further Solar Tariff Cuts
Spiegel also reports that the government wants to cut solar tariffs beyond cuts planned by Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen. It remains to be seen how this shall contribute to increased renewable energy generation.
f) Further Steps
The energy turnaround roadmap is very ambitious. Many details of how the government intends to lawfully implement its energy turnaround are all but clear. The moratorium was decided without a firm legal basis. It remains to be seen what the Cabinet’s energy package will ultimately contain. In light of the challenging technical necessities of energy generation and transmission, the sheer volume of legislative changes, the potential costs, and the speed of governmental decision-making, many concerns remain.
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