Major renewables spending cuts

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Renewable energies do comparatively little to reduce CO2 emissions in Germany compared with measures to save energy and improve the efficiency of conventional power plant. This is the overriding logic behind major cuts in spending on renewables at the Ministry for Education, Science, Research and Technology (BBWFT). Not only did renewables receive less support in 1996 than budgeted, the knife is again being wielded in 1997.

This year's renewable energy budget has been reduced to DEM 110 million, compared with spending of DEM 150 million in 1996. The budget for energy saving measures, however, will drop by only DEM 10 million, to DEM 50 million -- and projects aimed at improving energy efficiency will again get about DEM 60 million.

Wind energy this year is pencilled in at DEM 35 million, compared with a 1996 budget of DEM 43 million and actual spending of DEM 51 million. But if the BBWFT is to honour spending commitments already made under its 250 MW wind energy programme, another DEM 15 million must be found for 1997. Even if this extra cash materialises, there will be nothing left for spending on new wind research and development in Germany this year.

Hardest hit by the 1996 cuts was photovoltaic energy. The ministry's 1996 photovoltaic budget of DEM 81.6 million was cut by DEM 18 million during the year, with spending in 1996 amounting to no more than DEM 64 million. Wind, however, avoided the knife, but only because its budget was firmly fixed within the 250 MW wind programme. This programme came to an end just over a year ago, but is still in the process of winding down. Its influence pushed ministry spending up to DEM 51 million as wind projects selected for support continued to come on line.

Spending cuts in some areas were unavoidable after the government ordered an across-the-board reduction in Germany's national budget. The BBWFT, with a budget of DEM 15 billion in 1996, was hit with a reduction of 3% or about DEM 500 million. Project funding immediately became the target area for cuts, with photovoltaics taking the brunt of them. Some 75% of the BBWFT's budget goes to universities where staffing cuts are difficult to make, which probably explains the focus on other areas, renewables in particular.

In 1998, money for wind could again become available. Research into offshore projects is one candidate. But the higher cost of offshore wind is causing at least some scepticism within the ministry. There are doubts about it ever becoming a serious option.

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