Germany Could Shutter 20 Oldest Brown Coal Plants Without Creating Energy Shortages

World | Coal

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

Following the most recent election, German chancellor Angela Merkel is faced with the task of forming a coalition government involving the CDU/CSU alliance, the pro-business FDP, and the environmentalist Green Party. The alliance has been dubbed the Jamaica Coalition, because the colors representing the three groups match those found in the Jamaican flag.

Coal power plant cc by x1klima on FLickrThat coalition will need to deal with Germany’s commitments under the COP21 Paris climate accords. Shutting down many of Germany’s coal power plants would do wonders for meeting those goals, but the Union and FDP political parties warn that doing so would (supposedly) endanger the country’s electrical supply and result in energy shortages.

Not so, claims a new report (available only in German) by Agora Energiewende. “The shutdown of coal power plants would not make Germany dependent on electricity imports. It would only have to reduce its electricity exports,” Agora director Patrick Graichen tells German newspaper Der Bild. He claims any suggestion that shuttering up to 20 of Germany’s lignite — or brown coal — power plants would not cause energy shortages even in the coldest weather or on days when the wind is not strong enough to drive wind turbines.

Shutting down the lignite facilities would get Germany halfway to its carbon reduction goals, according to Agora Energiewende. It would still need to find other ways to meet the other half of those goals.

Stanislaw Tillich, the outgoing prime minister of the state of Saxony, has called on the government to create a fund to compensate businesses adversely affected by the shutdowns and to pay for the structural changes to the country’s energy grid that such a shutdown would cause. Tillich is a member of the CDU party and is involved in the coalition talks. He suggests the fund may need to be €6 billion or more.

Whether any of this gets done is very much a matter of conjecture. According to Clean Energy Wire, the latest polls show support for the so-called Jamaica Coalition slipping significantly among German voters, particularly those who support the Green Party. Those voters apparently feel the party is giving up too much in order to help forge the support necessary for a coalition government.

Adding to the pressure building against burning brown coal, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine, the German government has agreed to accept stricter limits on ​emissions of mercury, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter proposed by the European Union. Those new restrictions are opposed by Poland and the Czech Republic. The heads of North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Brandenburg had urged the German government to sue to stop enforcement of the new rules, but the central government has rejected their suggestion.

Meeting the new requirements will require extensive retrofitting of existing plants and some will have to be shut down in any case as they are too old to be brought into compliance. Whether or not Germany elects to shutter 20 lignite facilities as the Green Party recommends, it appears at least two such installations — Jänschwalde in Brandenburg and Neurath in North Rhine-Westphalia — will need to be closed in any event. Brown coal is one of the dirtiest fuels available for making electricity. Any plan that hastens the day when such facilities are shut down will be big win for the environment.