* Power plants suffer in German energy sector crisis
* Pooling plants would save 10 pct of costs-union head
* Entity could be set up within a year -union head
By Matthias Inverardi
HALTERN AM SEE, Germany, Feb 23 Germany's
utilities should pool their struggling hard coal plants into a
joint entity, the head of a labour union said, in a bid to save
jobs and reduce costs as a rise in renewables has driven many
conventional power plants into loss.
Europe's biggest economy has embarked on an ambitious
transformation of its energy sector or Energiewende, shifting
away from nuclear and towards renewable sources, hurting coal
and gas plants that are forced to limit their operation in
favour of solar and wind.
This, along with tepid demand for power in Europe, has led
Germany's big four utilities - E.ON, RWE,
EnBW and Sweden's Vattenfall - to mothball
or close thousands of megawatts (MW) worth of plant capacity.
One way for utilities to share the burden and save costs
would be to bundle their hard coal plants into a jointly owned
group, said Michael Vassiliadis, head of IG BCE, Germany's
third-largest union after IG Metall and Verdi, which represents
workers in the mining, chemicals and energy sectors.
"The mandate of such an entity would be to support the
Energiewende in an efficient and cost-effective way and to
secure the supply of electricity," Vassiliadis said, adding the
initiative could be formed within a year if backed by all
Vassiliadis said he had discussed the idea with companies
and politicians and the political response had been interested,
though utilities had not been overly keen.
German regulations give solar and wind power preferred
access to the power grid, though conventional plants are still
needed because of the intermittent nature of renewables.
Last year, hard coal plants accounted for 19.7 percent of
power generation in Germany, ranking third after lignite plants,
with a share of 25.8 percent and renewable sources in second at
23.4 percent, according to industry association BDEW.
Vassiliadis said his plan referred to hard coal plants with
total capacity of between 28 and 30 gigawatts (GW), most of
which are owned by E.ON, RWE, EnBW, Vattenfall and STEAG, which
is 49 percent owned by chemicals maker Evonik.
If they were bundled, the companies could save about 10
percent, or 100 million euros ($137 million), of operating and
maintenance costs per year, he said.
($1 = 0.7275 euros)
(Additional reporting by Christoph Steitz and Daniela Pegna in
Frankfurt; Editing by David Holmes)