Coal phase-out on the home straight — where is the sticking point??

The target date of 2038 for the coal phase-out has been in place for a year and a half — now negotiations on the mammoth project are finally on the home stretch.

On wednesday, the federal government presented contracts with the lignite companies that include 4.35 billion euros in compensation and the shutdown plan for the power plants. Next week, the bundestag and bundesrat are expected to close the bag and pass all the laws for the coal phase-out. But there are still a few hurdles to be overcome.

Until late on tuesday evening, the government, the states and the bundestag had been haggling over changes to the laws on the coal phase-out itself and on aid for the affected regions. One issue was left out of the cabinet’s decisions: how to deal with coal-fired power plants, especially the younger ones. Their operators, including municipal utilities, see themselves at a disadvantage compared to the large lignite companies. It’s possible that the federal government will compensate for this with more generous compensation.

Federal economics minister peter altmaier (cdu) is not letting this dampen his spirits: the way has been cleared for the conclusion of the parliamentary procedure, he said. Next week is the last chance before the summer break. Up to 40 billion euros will then be allocated to the lignite regions — primarily lausitz, the central german region and the rhenish region — with a further billion going to hard coal regions. Saxony’s minister president michael kretschmer (cdu) praised the federal government for having "paved the way" for a decision next week.

It’s been a year and a half since business representatives and climate advocates presented a concept for phasing out coal to the coal commission. "One and a half years that were not easy," altmaier admitted. Now, after the "rough consensus" on the nuclear phase-out, there is a chance to do the same for the coal phase-out.

The lignite agreement can only be signed and enter into force once it has been approved by the bundestag and the coal phase-out law has been passed. Environment minister svenja schulze (spd) emphasized that the agreement would give lignite operators planning security, but would also preserve "political flexibility.

In fact, the treaty makes it clear that the coal phase-out could have gone faster. The shutdown date for individual power plants can be brought forward by three years, without additional compensation, if the federal government decides to do so five years before the earlier date. In addition, the treaty stipulates that political decisions that could make coal-fired power plants uneconomical will not lead to additional compensation claims — for example, if the price of co2 rises, energy taxes change or renewable energies are expanded more quickly. Lawsuits against the coal phase-out are ruled out by the companies if they sign the agreement.

Critics had feared that the treaty would allow the federal government to take away its own room for maneuver in climate policy — and were relieved. "The coal phase-out will come sooner than many people can see," said the head of the environmental umbrella organization deutscher naturschutzring, kai niebert. The coal phase-out law will increasingly become a "fallback option".

The agreement is also intended to secure the preservation of the embattled hambach forest in north rhine-westphalia. "By adhering to the decommissioning path, it can be ensured that the hambach forest (…) will be preserved," it said. Rwe will not use the forest, which has become a symbol of resistance to climate-damaging coal-fired power, "for open-cast mining".

With a view to the necessary but time-consuming and expensive dismantling of the huge opencast mines, the agreement makes it clear that the compensation — 2.6 billion euros for rwe, 1.75 billion for the coal company leag — must be used to "cover the follow-up costs of opencast mining in good time".

The grunen in the bundestag showed up nevertheless dissatisfied. The exit is being "gold-plated" for the corporations, but when it comes to climate protection, there is a deviation from the proposals of the coal commission, faction vice chairman oliver krischer complained.

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