"Priority grid access, at least…"
The German renewables community is increasingly concerned about whether priority grid access for renewables will come under the hammer. Up to now, the focus has been on the level of feed-in tariffs. At a reception held by German renewables organization BEE in Berlin, German Environmental Minister Altmaier seemed to indicate a commitment to priority grid access, though a number of subsequent comments revealed a willingness to compromise.
"I believe we will want to stick by priority grid access," Minister Altmaier stated at the reception. But when the crowd broke into 30 seconds of applause at the announcement, the minister made no attempt to shout over the noise as he continued, "at least…" The crowd continued applauding over whatever concessions Altmaier was willing to make. When the applause died down, he added that current feed-in tariffs are calculated to provide a return of seven or eight percent, and that the recent drastic cuts actually came too late, with returns being closer to 15 percent before the cuts were made.
"Only around 11 percent of the solar panels installed in Germany" are now made in the country. Altmaier concluded that the "market would have been less interesting for foreign investors" if feed-in tariffs had been reduced sooner. The German PV sector would also then have been forced to look for ways to lower costs. Altmaier pointed out that the numerous recent reductions in feed-in tariffs have not been able to slow down the growth of renewables.
BEE-Neujahrsempfang 2013 mit Altmaier
The CDU politician stated that it is impossible to make all turbine manufacturers and wind farm developers happy because they do not even agree among themselves completely. A number of market players, for instance, support offshore wind, while others want to focus on wind farms on the windy northern coastline, with a third camp calling for a focus on wind power from southern Germany, where new turbines would spread out the production of wind power across the country.
The minister made it clear that he aims to reform the EEG fundamentally. He explained that the law was crucial in the current success of renewables, but that there is a consensus within the sector that the focus now has to be on "overall supply issues." In addition, Altmaier says the Energiewende has to be affordable. He called the recent increase in retail rates of more than a cent per kilowatt-hour "bearable" for households and small firms, but he stated that midsize firms should no longer have to face unforeseen power price hikes.
Altmaier added that installation rates are decisive for future power prices. The minister expressed his support for a strategic reserve, consisting of flexible gas turbines to cover the gap when there is too little solar and wind power. These turbines would receive compensation irrespective of prices on the power market, but Altmaier said he was not yet able to comment on specific market design's. "Anything that I tried to defend right now would just be shot down. We are just at the beginning of the debate."
Altmaier concluding remarks – that the Energiewende has reached a point of no return, but that a number of problems remain to be solved – met with great applause. (Tilman Weber / Craig Morris)