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Seymour Gris: Five euros to save the world?

Germany has the most successful renewable energy policy in the world, but now half the country is foaming at the month about a few euros a month to pay for it.

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Renewable energy has become such a humdrum, technocratic topic in Germany, it’s hard give it a varnish of sex appeal anymore. Save the planet? Yawn. Stop climate change? Whatever. Reduce the risk of nuclear contamination for future generations? Fuku-what?

Barely a year after Angela Merkel’s post-Fukushima 360°-turn on nuclear power, and 12 years after the ground-breaking “Red-Green” Renewable Energy Act, the media are whinging about the latest increase in surcharges to pay for guaranteed feed-in tariffs for people who have a solar panel on their roof or wind farm operators.  Electricity bills, it was announced, will go up by €60 per year for the average three-person holdhold.

As predicted, the Bild “newspaper” is foaming at the mouth:

“Strom-Wut: Jetzt zahlen wir die Zeche für die Energie-Wende

BILD.de erklärt den Irrsinn: Wieso zahlen wir für die Golfplätze der Bonzen?

Wollen Sie zurück zum Atom-Strom – Stimmen Sie ab!”

Rough translation:

“Electricity anger: Now we have to cough up the cash for the transition to (renewable) energy

Bild.de explains the madness: Why are we paying for the bosses’ golf courses?

Do you want to return to nuclear power – vote!”

This “article” goes on to explain that the French pay half as much as the Germans for their electricity as the Germans and then encourages people to vote on whether they want good old nuclear power back.

Besides the totally populist, manipulative, irresponsible and fact-poor nature of the Bild article (we wouldn’t expect anything more from them), I’d like to make a few points…

1. Germany wants to generate 40 percent of its electricity through renewable sources (solar, wind, etc.) by 2020. The country is probably going to reach the target – while phasing out nuclear power at the same time – which would make it the most successful and ambitious renewable energy policy on the planet. Surely something to be proud of! Five euros a month – to invest in ground-breaking technology to transform your country into the most innovative industrialized country in the world? Not such a bad deal.

2. Sure, there are problems. High guaranteed feed-in tariffs and the new power lines required to deliver the electricity from the solar panels and wind turbines to the people who need it – this all costs a lot of money. Who’s going to pay for it? Yes, we are. The only valid point that Bild makes here is that many businesses (like golf courses and factory farms), apparently, are exempt from paying the “eco” surcharges. That’s grossly unfair. There are surely ways of spreading the costs more evenly. And since when was Bild concerned with social justice?

3. French all-nuke electricity is cheap – deceptively so. Over the next few decades they’ll have to foot the enormous bill for dozens of old reactors. And building new ones won’t be viable either. Since Fukushima, no insurance companies want to insure nuclear power stations against the risk of a worst-case nuclear disaster that could cause damage on an unbelievable scale. And, as recently reported, European reactors already have safety problems! Did I mention that the problem of how to store nuclear waste safely for hundreds of thousands of years (at tax payer expense, no doubt) still hasn’t been solved by any country in the world? Anyone who thinks nuclear is cheap is just a fool.

And finally, maybe it’s actually good to make electricity a bit more expensive. If you really want to prevent climate change, maybe people should actually be encouraged to save electricity. Just a thought…