German cabinet agrees to costly underground power lines

BERLIN, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Germany’s cabinet cleared the way on Wednesday for underground cabling to expand the country’s power grid, aiming to avoid local protests against new overground power lines which would have been cheaper.

The grid expansion is a pillar of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s shift to renewable energy from nuclear power and fossil fuels.

Net operators say more power lines are needed to carry green energy from wind farms in northern coastal areas to the industrial south where several nuclear power plants are being switched off.

Merkel’s cabinet approved plans for about 1,000 km (600 miles) of high-voltage underground cabling after protests against building lines above ground gathered momentum across the country, especially in the southern state of Bavaria.

The underground cabling will cost between 3 billion euros and 8 billion euros more than the overland option and the extra expense is likely to be added to consumers’ electricity bills.

However, the government argues that savings will be made with the underground cables in the medium-term because protests will be avoided and construction will be speeded up.

In response to the protests, the government said in July that grid operators should modernise existing pylons and use underground cabling in as many areas as possible. (Reporting by Markus Wacket; Writing by Madeline Chambers; editing by David Stamp)