Election politics lack substance

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A mini market introduction programme for renewable energies in Germany is likely to be introduced from 1995 for four years, with a total budget of DEM 100 million. "This Federal Economy Ministry programme would, of course, be better than nothing, but still it represents a pretty miserable development for renewables," comments Joachim Behnke from the German Wind Association, DGW.

As a replacement for the Federal Research Ministry's 250 MW programme, which provided the means for development of a considerable range of wind turbine designs by different companies, the economy ministry's programme is a poor suitor. And not only is the 250 MW programme coming to an end, but its DEM 0.06/kWh subsidy will now only be paid until 25% of the wind turbine's installation costs have been reached. Previously it covered 50% of the capital costs.

What is urgently needed now is a sensible market introduction programme spread over at least five years to allow Germany's wide range of fledgling wind turbine manufacturing companies to get established, argues DGW. The Federal Economy Ministry's offering, just DEM 25 million per year scraped thinly across all renewables, only just exceeds the annual sum earmarked by inland state North Rhine Westfalia for its renewables programme, REN.

The federal government's reluctance to take renewable energies seriously could be dangerously shortsighted in an election year. A recent survey of public opinion by the nuclear industry has revealed overwhelming support for renewables in Germany (see box). But Eurosolar spokesman Harry Lehmann fears that to make up for the lack of substance in his new programme, economy minister Günter Rexrodt may try to make a lot of mileage out of a very short piece of string. By turning the announcement of the new renewables programme into a giant public relations exercise on the eve of October's federal elections, Rexrodt could score well. Lehmann, however, hopes the general public will not fall for the story.

Even now there is a suspicion that many people give the government the benefit of the doubt over the present one year economy ministry renewables programme. This has a tiny budget of DEM 10 million, of which just DEM 1 million is reserved for wind. "How many people think that's a misprint, with one or two noughts missing?" asks Lehmann.

A major obstacle to a sensible renewables strategy at federal level appears to be lack of knowledge amongst influential politicians, in particular economy minister Günter Rexrodt. His understanding is not helped by the overwhelming anti-renewables influence of the major German utilities -- and the contrasting lack of clout of the renewables lobby. The view of the utility sectors was recently summed up succinctly by Preussenelektra spokesman Peter-Carl Rühland: "Interesting but insignificant."

Those working to get a fair hearing for renewables in the upper echelons of politics must feel they have a lot in common with Sisyphus struggling to move his giant rock. They face an enormous task and so far little progress seems to have resulted from their efforts. There are a few small, but encouraging signs, however. Rexrodt called a meeting with the renewables lobby in mid-April which at least allowed an airing of views. This surprising initiative may have something to do with the renewables side having strengthened its political position by teaming up with the German Farming Association (GFA).

Teaming up with farmers

The idea of investing in fast-growing fuel crops for biomass as a sensible use for set-aside land is fast gaining ground. As a result, farmers and other more traditional renewable lobbies are suddenly discovering many common aims. Significantly, the GFA has some 500,000 members -- swelling the ranks of the renewables lobby to the point where it is beginning to look like a political force to be reckoned with, big enough to swing a couple of seats in parliament.

At the April meeting with Rexrodt several renewables aims, including specifically wind issues, were broached. A survey of energy industry views on the Energy Feed Law -- which sets the DEM 0.17/kWh price for wind power and obliges utilities to buy all renewable energy -- will begin shortly. In the autumn experts from the economy ministry will prepare a report on the results of the survey to parliament which will then decide if the law should be extended. The wind lobby is arguing for an amendment to the feed law to raise the price paid for renewables to a level which covers the full costs. More realistically, though, it is also calling for wind power to be paid at 95% of the consumer price of electricity in inland areas and at a slightly lower rate in coastal regions where wind is more profitable. Wind lobbyists also hope the question of grid connection costs will be tackled. They propose that utilities should pay DEM 350/kW towards grid connection costs, with wind project operators paying the rest.

For what it is worth, Rexrodt agrees that representatives of the renewables lobby should be invited to join their big brothers in trade delegations to foreign countries. Perhaps he will also start listening to cries for the renewables' industry to have the same access as other industries to credit and export guarantees.

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