Merkel coalition runs wild with industry exceptions
Over the past few years, the number of firms exempt from the grid charge and the renewables surcharge has skyrocketed, often for no apparent reason. The result is that fewer and fewer power customers have to shoulder the cost, and this price is then reported as the cost of power in Germany -- not the price of those who are exempt.
In the German parliament, a Kleine Anfrage is a way for opposition politicians to expose the government’s work; a politician not in the coalition requests information, and the government has 14 days to provide it.
In recent weeks, the Greens have asked which firms are exempt from the grid charge and how many are (largely) exempt from the renewables surcharge (they pay only 1% of the surcharge); see the official response (in German) here. The chart below shows the number of grid connection points that pay the lower surcharge:
“Grid connection points” means where the firms are connected. As a rough estimate, each firm has 1.5 such connections, so for 2,500 connection points we are talking about some 1,600 firms. The numbers were rising the whole time, but the most salient jump took place in 2010 after Merkel got her new coalition in 2009.
The Greens also asked the government for an overview of the cost impact. Here are those results:
|Year||Cost per kWh in cents|
Again, the cost of these exemptions rose steadily – and by roughly 50% from 2006 to 2009. But it increased by nearly 400% in the first three years of the current coalition.
And that’s just the renewables surcharge; firms can also be exempt from the grid connection fee (for the distinction, see this report). Originally, both of these ideas were intended to prevent energy-industry from leaving the country. But is has been grossly perverted in recent years; now, firms that cannot possibly leave the country receive an exemption simply because they consume enough power.
At the beginning of August, the government responded to requests by the Greens for specific firms exempt from the grid fee. It turns out that 35 sites for Aldi (Germany’s biggest grocery store chain), 15 sites for department store chain C&A, and 11 for clothing giant H&M are exempt – not exactly what people would consider energy-intensive… or even industry for that matter.
It gets worse from there; the list includes Burger King and the Sparkasse savings bank in Essen along with two golf clubs (GCC Baden and Seddiner See), with no decision having yet been made about golf club St. Leon-Rot’s application for exemption. The government’s reasoning is as simple as it is baffling: “the requirements are fulfilled.”
Without wishing to allege any intentions, I can only sum up the outcome – a perversion of what the law originally intended. Retail consumers are being asked to pay an ever-greater chunk of power bills. Energy-intensive industry than can go offshore deserves some protection; we should be careful not to scare away industry. But at present, gifts are being handed out to a widening group of companies that do not fit under that category. Even if the government can rightly claim that these firms fit under the wording of the law, they do not fit under the spirit. So maybe it’s time to change the wording to better match the spirit. (Craig Morris)