With the EFL so well fortified, the utilities are proceeding with a flanking manoeuvre. They are trying to move the account from which payments for renewables are made away from electricity consumers and over to the cash-starved budgets of national or state government. Here the purse strings are likely to snap tight very fast indeed -- cutting off the fertile market for renewables in its prime. This, rather than the relatively small financial burden of the EFL, is widely believed to be the real reasoning behind the law-breaking efforts of the utilities to get the EFL put before the German Constitutional Court.
Appealing to the court could be the utility sector's last chance to retain its control over power generation. Parts of the renewable energy sector are growing so fast that they may not even need the EFL's premium rates. Following the recognition that capacity factors can be vastly improved when renewables technologies operate together, some forms of hybrid plants will soon be so competitive that guaranteed access to the grid is all they need. Jens Peter Molly, from the German wind institute DEWI, has noted that several smaller utilities in the north of Germany now publicly accept that wind has a capacity credit of around 10% -- it can replace one in every ten megawatt of conventional generating capacity. Although the wind lobby would maintain this is on the low side, a principle has been established. If wind plant are displacing some of the need for other power plant in Germany, operators are already entitled to payment in recognition of this fact. According to Molly, this should be DEM 200-300 for each kilowatt of recognised capacity credit, or an additional 5-8% of yearly income earned by a turbine.
Wind operators are now seeking ways of complementing their wind plant with other technology, such as battery systems, biodiesel generators or biomass plant. Not only does this increase capacity credit, it can also be regulated at will -- something that nuclear power cannot do. If the utilities are obliged to feed their grids with this clean power, in preference to coal or nuclear, their monopoly is gone for good. In a deregulated market of the future, with free access to the grid, a block of independent renewables generators could even snap up choice customers from the ranks of heavy industry.
In the medium term, the renewables lobby wants the necessary market support for renewables to be sourced from an energy/CO2 tax rather than through the EFL. While the wind sector is close to competing with conventional power stations, photovoltaic in particular needs considerable support and only an energy tax can provide the volume of funds necessary. In addition only a market penetration of the whole cross-section of renewables technologies will give them enough combined capacity credit to displace a good portion of fossil and nuclear capacity.