EU Energy Commissioner criticizes German energy policy
Yesterday, two separate media reports quoted Günther Oettinger criticizing his home country both for its feed-in tariffs and for not coordinating its actions with its neighbors. He also wants Germany to let bureaucratic decisions by unelected officials in Brussels override democratic processes at home – a trend UK Prime Minister David Cameron is complaining about.
Karel van Miert is no longer among us, but he would probably feel avenged by some recent news. The Belgian was Competition Commissioner when Germany rolled out its feed-in tariffs in 2000, and van Miert was certain they constituted "state aid." But the European Court of Justice thought differently and found that feed-in tariffs – at least the way they were implemented in Germany at the time – do not discriminate against foreign companies or favor one company over another. Furthermore, European member states have targets for renewables and therefore must somehow promote these technologies to the disadvantage of conventional energy. Feed-in tariffs do so by leaving specific decisions up to the market, so they do not constitute unfair competition, the Court found more than a decade ago.
But now, the specter of "unfair subsidies" is back. Yesterday, EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger was quoted in German daily FAZ to the extent that he is helping current Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia look into whether the German feed-in tariffs mean that German ratepayers are subsidizing renewable power that is driving down prices in neighboring countries. As Renewables International has pointed out, wholesale power prices are not only down in Germany thanks to renewables, but also in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
The Dutch are now producing less power themselves because they can import electricity from German less expensively. The result is lower profits for plant operators in the Netherlands. As in the case of Switzerland, which also complained about its power firms facing lower profits, no one is suggesting that these lower prices should be passed on to consumers.
Yesterday, Oettinger also criticized Germany for "going it alone" in its energy transition and called on Germany to "make its energy transformation compatible with Europe." He did not criticize France for having a much higher share of nuclear than other EU member states, however, nor did he call for penalties to be imposed on member states that fail to meet their targets for renewables, such as France, which had a target of 21 percent renewable electricity for 2010 but had only reached 16.2 percent in 2012 – compared to 14.5 percent in 1997. In contrast, Germany has blown past all of its targets for renewable electricity.
In a display of disdain for democracy, Oettinger called on Germany to "return to the fold of CCS developers." Last year, the German government resolved to allow local communities to decide whether they want to house a carbon storage facility for carbon capture and storage. This democratic input spells, of course, the death knell for CCS, as no German community will want to have such a facility nearby, so essentially the EU Energy Commissioner is telling Germany to roll back its democracy and follow instructions from appointed (unelected) officials in Brussels – partly what British Prime Minister David Cameron is currently complaining about.
As governor of the state of Baden-Württemberg, Oettinger was a staunch opponent of renewables, especially wind power, which he managed to nearly completely keep out of the state. (Craig Morris)