Germany's Gabriel rejects calls to focus on exit from coal

BERLIN, June 9 (Reuters) - Germany’s economy minister on Thursday rejected calls for Europe’s largest economy to focus on ending coal use in the way it plans to quit nuclear energy.

“I will not call for a commission to deal with a coal exit,” Sigmar Gabriel told a conference of some 1,400 delegates mostly representing power utilities.

“My proposal would be for one to deal with the question how we create a modernisation shift in our macroeconomy out of the need to protect the climate.”

He said such a forum ought to link discussions about economic growth and social issues with the need to further develop Energiewende, Germany’s drive towards a decarbonised economy.

“We cannot reduce all that to the coal question,” Gabriel said.

Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Germany shut 40 percent of its nuclear capacity immediately and announced it would exit nuclear completely by 2022, earlier than previously planned.

Calls have grown for Germany to set out a timetable for a withdrawal from coal in power production as well.

A draft economy ministry document last month showed plans to end coal-fired power generation, the most carbon-intensive form of energy, “well before 2050”.

Domestic hard coal mining will cease in 2018 and Germany’s coal miners and users expect the country’s last brown coal mines to close by around 2045.

Utilities such as E.ON and RWE plan to close several old coal-fired power plants in the coming years and will move 2.7 gigawatts (GW) of brown coal plant capacity into a reserve scheme later this decade.

They also stress that the simple fact that it is difficult to profit on generating power from coal will speed its demise.

“Coal is losing in importance, but (that means) we will have to talk about industrial growth and social compensation,” Gabriel said.

Government would need to create alternative business opportunities to safeguard jobs and tax revenue in affected areas, he said. (Reporting by Vera Eckert; editing by Jason Neely)