Checkpoint Charlie in the carbon curtain

GERMANY’S exit from nuclear energy and the high price of natural gas are shaping up as positive beacons for coal interests in Europe’s largest economy.
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Justin Niessner

True to its fence-riding position in the continent’s iron curtain during the Cold War period, Germany has seemingly blurred the lines of the so-called “carbon curtain”, which has separated coal-friendly markets in eastern European nations from the strict emissions standards of European Union members.

More than 20 coal-fired stations are under development across Germany projected to generate some 24,000 megawatts of power.

A push from both Environmental Minister Peter Altmaier and Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for the development of more coal-fired power stations even as Germany juggles an ambitious environmental protection strategy.

Merkel has increased German coal consumption by 5% since announcing a plan to shut down the country’s nuclear energy operations and supported the recent opening of power utility REW’s new 2200MW coal plant outside of Cologne.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the lignite station, Altmaier said Germany would require fossil-fueled electricity for decades to come and that state-of-the-art coal plants should be considered a positive contribution to climate protection efforts.

Straddling the carbon curtain, however, has been criticized as an unsustainable energy policy.

“Angela Merkel’s policy has created an incentive structure which has the effect of partially replacing nuclear with coal, the dirtiest fuel that’s responsible for much of the growth in the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions since 1990,” Oxford energy policy professor Dieter Helm told Bloomberg Friday.

“Germany needs to exit coal and switch to gas as a transitionary fuel, not the other way around, as quickly as possible if it really cares about the climate.”

The BBC also citing an environmental threat in Merkel’s energy policy quoted Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on the opportunity of increased supply deals from Germany’s coal-rich neighbor.

“From Poland’s point of view, this is a good thing not a bad one,” he said.

“It means coal-based power will be back on the agenda.”