| BERLIN, March 5
BERLIN, March 5 Thousands gathered in
Berlin on Monday to protest looming cuts to solar power
incentives, which the solar industry says will reduce the market
for new installations in Germany, the world's largest, to just a
quarter of its size and result in massive job losses.
Concerned by rapid growth in Germany's solar sector, which
has seen the development of almost as much capacity as the rest
of the world combined, the government last month approved plans
to slash state-mandated incentives for photovoltaic electricity.
Guenther Cramer, president of Germany's Solar Energy
Association (BSW), said the cuts could wipe out the industry and
made no economic or technical sense.
"What solar energy does though is take away market share
from the big utilities companies," he said, making it a "thorn
in their side".
So-called feed-in tariffs helped Germany's solar industry to
blossom over the past decade, leading to a number of stock
market listings and creating about 150,000 jobs at companies
ranging from SolarWorld AG to Q-Cells SE.
Capacity grew by around 7,000 megawatts in both 2010 and
2011, far above the 2,500 to 3,500 megawatts Berlin would like
to see each year. Subsidy cuts of up to 37 percent were slated
for March 9, although these could be delayed until April 1 and
may be watered down.
The government argues excess capacity has weighed on
distribution grids and subsidies have pushed prices higher.
Solar subsidies cost consumers about 2 cent per
kilowatt/hour or 70 euros per year. Solar-generated electricity
accounts for about 4 percent of total consumption in Germany.
The opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens criticised
the cuts, as did some deputies in Merkel's Christian Democrats
(CDU) and their sister party in Bavaria, the CSU. Bavaria has
strongly benefited from the solar boom.
"The cuts would threaten my job and thousands of others.
They make no sense and run against the tide of people taking the
way they use energy into their own hands," said demonstrator
Carsten Nuhn, 45, from Hesse, who set up a company installing
solar panels in 2003.
Protestors from environmentalist, trade union and industry
groups waved yellow flags and waved huge placards of sun block
tubes, showing Economy Minister Philipp Roesler with the slogan:
"Sun block factor 90".
(Editing by David Holmes)