Germany’s Green Caste System: Poor Forced To Subsidise The Green Elites

  • Date: 21/10/17
  • New York Times News Service

A backlash of epic proportions is building over rising prices for energy.

A de facto class system has emerged, saddling Germany’s have-nots with higher electricity bills that help subsidise the installation of solar panels and wind turbines of the well-off green elites.

300,000 German households see power turned off

A mother is sitting with her son in her darkened apartment in Hanover. Only a burning candle illuminates the room. (Source: dpa)

[…] The farm has been a beneficiary of “Energiewende”, the German word for energy transition. Over the past two decades, Germany has focused its political will and treasure on a world-leading effort to wean its powerful economy off the traditional energy sources blamed for climate change.

The benefits of the programme have not been universally felt, however. A de facto class system has emerged, saddling a group of have-nots with higher electricity bills that help subsidise the installation of solar panels and wind turbines elsewhere.

Germany has spent an estimated 189 billion euros (about $222 billion) since 2000 on renewable energy subsidies. But emissions have been stuck at roughly 2009 levels, and rose last year, as coal-fired plants fill a void left by Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear power. That has raised questions — and anger — over a programme meant to make the country’s power sector greener.

This lack of progress is an “illustration of the partial failure of the energy transition,” said Artur Lenkowski, an energy analyst at IHS Markit, a research firm. “The whole point of the energy transition was to lower greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Now, Energiewende is at a crossroads. Chancellor Angela Merkel may have won a fourth term as Germany’s leader after elections, but her party lost sway. She must form a coalition with the left-leaning Greens and the pro-business Free Liberals, parties that have diametrically opposing views, including on environmental policies.

How such a diverse group comes together will affect whether Germany reaches its goal for carbon emissions. It wants a cut of 40 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2020, and of 95 per cent by 2050. […]

Renewable energy subsidies are financed through electric bills, meaning that Energiewende is a big part of the reason prices for consumers have doubled since 2000.

These big increases “are absolutely not OK,” said Thomas Engelke, team leader for construction and energy at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations, an umbrella organisation of consumer groups.

The higher prices have had political consequences. The far-right party Alternative for Germany, which won enough support in the recent elections to enter parliament, has called for an “immediate exit” from Energiewende. The party, known by its German initials AfD, sees the programme as a “burden” on German households, and many supporters have come into its fold in part because of the programme’s mounting costs.

Julian Hermneuwohner is one such voter. Hermneuwohner, a computer science student, said his family paid an additional 800 euros a year because of Energiewende. “But it hasn’t brought lower CO2 emissions,” he said. “It’s frustrating that we’re paying so much more, because the country hasn’t gotten anything for it.” …

Further progress will require taking on tougher targets. That would mean challenging the politically powerful auto and coal industries, including unions and companies, that have opposed plant shutdowns.

“Some of the low-hanging fruit might be gone now,” said Tim Boersma, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. “It is becoming clear how challenging making this overall transition is.”

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