German Coal State Opposes More Lignite Cuts to Save Jobs

Brandenburg, Germany’s lignite region, is balking at plans by Chancellor Angela Merkel for deeper cuts to the industry amid fears it will crimp jobs and hurt a source of cheap power.

The eastern German state is waiting for the government to fine-tune sweeping plans to extract tougher CO2 cuts from the power sector to meet its 2020 climate goals. Merkel is partly targeting carbon emissions from lignite, the dirtiest fuel and supplier of about a quarter of Germany’s power.

Given that 8,000 jobs are linked to the industry in Brandenburg, it’s unfair to accelerate closures of lignite power plants, state Economy Minister Albrecht Gerber said.

“The greatest part of the CO2 reduction in Germany since 1990 took place in eastern Germany,” Gerber said in a phone interview. “We have to be careful that further reduction targets won’t threaten our domestic economy.”

Germany is under pressure to act to avoid the embarrassment of missing its national climate target -- a cut in carbon emissions of 40 percent by 2020. While Germany has expanded renewable sources such as solar and wind, it used coal to generate 45 percent of its power in 2013, the highest level since 2007, to help replace reactors shut after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

At the same time, lignite-fired power stations and the state’s low population density have pushed up per capita CO2 emissions in Brandenburg to the highest level of Germany’s 16 states. Vattenfall AB is currently trying to find a buyer for its Brandenburg lignite holdings based in the state’s southern Lausitz region.

“I don’t subscribe to scenarios with fixed time plans for exiting lignite,” said Gerber, a Social Democrat who said championing the industry helped his party win state elections last year. “We can answer the question of when to exit the industry only when renewable power can supplant coal for Germany’s on-demand and storage requirements.”

Germany, with four of Europe’s five dirtiest power plants, seeks additional cuts of about 22 million tons of CO2 from the power sector to meet the 2020 targets, the government said in December.

Brandenburg wants a reform of the electricity market instead of introducing a subsidized capacity market that would pay utilities for backup power, he said. What the nation needs are new power lines to bring wind power generated in northeastern states to consumption centers in the south, he said.

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