(Recasts, adds comments from Economy Minister)
BERLIN Jan 19 Germany on Tuesday warned against
a hasty exit from coal-fired power generation, concerned that
such a move could pile more pressure on producers still
wrestling with the planned shutdown of nuclear plants by 2022.
Calls for the German government to set a timeline for
phasing out coal-generated electricity have grown following the
climate protection deal struck in Paris last month.
"When we're talking about the future of coal I would advise
being less ideological about it and to focus more on climate
goals and the economic consequences," Economy Minister Sigmar
Gabriel said at an industry conference on Tuesday.
Gabriel said coal should not be tackled in similar "seismic
waves", referring to Germany's decision to abandon nuclear power
after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 in a move that has
been described as too fast.
"We need to be aware of what is needed to have a stable
energy supply," he said, adding he wanted to invite all relevant
parties to a roundtable this year about the future of coal.
Gabriel's comments chime with those made by Germany's
largest power producer RWE on Tuesday, when it
rejected new calls to phase out coal-fired power generation.
"The whole debate (about exiting coal) is unnecessary," RWE
Chief Operating Officer Rolf Martin Schmitz told Reuters on the
sidelines of the industry event.
Coal accounted for 60 percent of RWE's power production in
2014, while the share at rival E.ON was 27 percent.
The utilities have stressed that steps taken in 2015 to move
domestic brown coal plants into a reserve scheme later this
decade, as well as dismal power generation profits, were
sufficient to see the gradual end of coal burning.
Some 2.7 gigawatts of power generation from brown coal,
equivalent to the output from five power plants, will be closed
but retained as reserve power in case of emergency, parties in
the coalition government agreed last year.
The government wants 80 percent of German power provided by
renewables by 2050. In 2015, the share was 30 percent, data from
industry group BDEW shows. However, brown coal and imported hard
coal still accounted for 42 percent together.
"RWE has a clear plan (for coal) until 2050. We are able to
provide sufficient power at decent prices until then," Schmitz
Coal-fired power production employs not just tens of
thousands of people, but is needed to provide round-the-clock
power to Europe's biggest economy as it cannot solely rely on
volatile green power, the utilities argue.
Gabriel said it was irresponsible to talk about a coal exit
without offering those working in coal-producing regions, such
as Lusatia in eastern Germany, alternative job prospects.
"Whoever wants to talks about an exit in Lusatia, must at
the same time enter into a realistic discussion about
sustainable jobs that earn a decent wage," he said.
The first priority for reducing carbon emissions should be
to make sure that Europe's Emissions Trading System works
properly, he said.
(Reporting by Vera Eckert, Tom Kaeckenhoff, Christoph Steitz
and Caroline Copley; editing by Mark Potter and David Clarke)