Germany announced plans to shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants over the next 19 years to meet its international commitments in the fight against climate change, a government commission on Jan. 26.
The plan would leave Europe’s largest country dependent on renewables for its energy. The Los Angeles Times reported that coal plants account for 40 percent of Germany’s electricity, itself a reduction from recent years when coal dominated power production.
“This is an historic accomplishment,” said Ronald Pofalla, chairman of the 28-member government commission, at a news conference in Berlin. “It was anything but a sure thing. But we did it, there won’t be any more coal-burning plants in Germany by 2038.”
The plan includes some $45 billion in spending to mitigate the pain in coal regions. The commission’s recommendations are expected to be adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.
The decision to quit coal follows an earlier bold energy policy move by the German government, which decided to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022 in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011.
Twelve of the country’s 19 nuclear plants have been shuttered so far.
The plan to eliminate coal-burning plants as well as nuclear means that Germany will be counting on renewable energy to provide 65 to 80 percent of the country’s power by 2040. Last year, renewables overtook coal as the leading source and now account for 41 percent of the country’s electricity.
German CO2 emissions fell appreciably in the early 1990s, largely because of the implosion of Communist East Germany and its heavily polluting industry. Still, the country continued to rely on coal-fired plants for a significant share of its electricity.
Powerful utilities and labor unions helped keep coal-burning plants operating and previous governments even planned to expand the number of coal plants to compensate for the pending withdrawal from nuclear power. There are still about 20,000 jobs directly dependent on the coal industry and 40,000 indirectly tied to it.
Germany long saw itself as a global leader in fighting climate change but was forced to concede in recent years that it would by miss its target date of 2020 to reduce CO2 emissions by 40 percent from 1990. It is expected to be 32 percent below 1990 levels by next year.
Germany and nearly 200 nations around the world agreed to the landmark Paris climate accord in 2015 to work to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees.
Leaders of four states that will be hard hit by the decision were also disappointed that they failed to obtain a total of $68 billion in support and compensation they were demanding. Two of the three governors in east German states are facing difficult elections later this year and there are fears the far-right Alternative for Germany party could capitalize on the looming loss of the industry that once flourished in the regions of Brandenburg and Saxony.
Included in the recommendations was that the phase-out target be reviewed every three years. Also, the final deadline could be moved forward, if possible, by three years to 2035.
The initial targets are considerable, calling for a quarter of the country’s coal-burning plants with a capacity of 12.5 gigawatts to be shut down by 2022. That means about 24 plants will be shut within the first three years. By 2030, Germany should have about eight coal-burning plants remaining, producing 17 gigawatts of electricity, the commission said.