German ministers cast doubt on green energy targets

BERLIN, July 17 Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:52am EDT

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BERLIN, July 17 (Reuters) - Germany may need to adjust its energy efficiency targets but remains committed to the "green revolution" it outlined last year, the country's environment minister said on Tuesday.

Peter Altmaier said he wanted to achieve the government's target of reducing power consumption in Europe's biggest economy by 10 percent by 2020 but added that Germany must remain competitive and that power must be affordable.

The minister caused a stir on Sunday by comments to a newspaper that the target would require an enormous effort and that he doubted whether it was even possible.

"I said this in order to consider what measures must be taken to achieve such goals," Altmaier said at a conference in the German capital on climate change.

"If you have such an ambitious goal, it must be underpinned by demanding measures," he said, adding that an honest look at the plans, which he added would strengthen Germany in the long run, had to take place.

Such comments are something of an embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who abruptly announced an accelerated exit from nuclear energy last year after Japan's Fukushima disaster and laid out a vision for a switch to renewable power.

Earlier on Tuesday, Economy Minister Philipp Roesler became the second cabinet minister to cast doubt on green energy goals, saying the government should adapt its ambitious renewable energy target to protect jobs and competitiveness.

Roesler told Bild daily that politicians had to use their judgement on decisions on energy provision.

"The time frame and goals for the energy switch are there. But we must adjust them if jobs and our competitiveness are threatened," said Roesler, head of the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) which shares power with Merkel's conservatives.

Merkel's goals are to increase renewable energy to at least 35 percent of power generation by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Twenty percent of electricity now comes from renewables, nearly half of that from wind turbines.

Critics say little has happened since the announcement of the targets and have warned of power shortages if the government does not do more to encourage investment in the renewable energy sector quickly.

Thomas Oppermann, a leader for the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), said the ministers were right.

"The problems the ministers describe are long known. The coalition's energy revolution is nothing more than rhetoric ... The expansion of the grid is not making progress, and the integration of renewable energy is a failure," he said.

"The question of energy costs will decide whether Germany writes a new chapter of success in industrial history," he said

German media have long warned that power prices could rise as a result of the energy switch.

Altmaier also told the conference, convened to prepare for a major UN climate conference in Qatar at the end of the year, that he wanted measurable progress to be made in Doha. (Reporting by Markus Wacket; writing by Madeline Chambers, editing by Jane Baird)

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