July 7, 2011 / 3:09 PM / 8 years ago

German parliament set to okay clean coal bill

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s lower house is expected to pass legislation that would open up EU funding for technology that traps greenhouse gases from burning coal, one week after parliament voted to phase out nuclear power in the next decade.

Utility group Vattenfall Europe has applied for EU aid for a controversial pilot plant in the economically underdeveloped region of Brandenburg, the only so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility currently foreseen for Germany due to widespread opposition by local residents.

“The passage by the Bundestag is an important signal, and the project has good chances of being funded by the EU,” said a conservative MP from Brandenburg, Jens Koeppen, on Thursday ahead of the vote later in the day.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy and a global manufacturing powerhouse, has committed to reducing its carbon footprint by 40 percent in 2020 compared with 1990, with further cuts to come over the following three decades.

Pointing to the low level of planet-warming gases emitted by nuclear reactors, critics have warned Berlin that its anti-nuclear policies will make climate targets even more difficult to achieve.

“The phase-out of nuclear power means Germany has given itself a challenging task achieving both targets for climate protection and securing an environmentally friendly and efficient energy supply,” said Martin Neumann, the research policy expert for the junior coalition partner Free Democrats (FDP) who represents a constituency in Brandenburg.

LIMITED IMPACT

Coal accounts for just over 40 percent of the country’s energy needs, but it is also the dirtiest fuel when it comes to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This is particularly true for brown coal, for which Germany is the largest global producer before even commodity-rich Australia.

Scientists say capturing carbon dioxide emissions and sequestering them underground could hold the key to an environmentally friendly way of burning the fossil fuel.

The current bill lays the foundation for testing and demonstration efforts only. Wider introduction would not take place without consulting local residents, who often oppose sequestering carbon dioxide below the earth for fear the potentially lethal gas could escape in large amounts.

A clause that would allow regional states to veto plans for CCS plants for fear of widespread opposition means the legislation’s impact would probably be limited.

Even Brandenburg’s own regional government has said its citizens may scarcely accept bunkering CO2 produced in local power plants and steel mills in sites around the state.

“Many issues remain unclear and can only be solved through sufficient research. That’s the only way one can answer the many questions and conjecture over the effects, sometimes even horror scenarios, posed by opponents of this new technology,” the FDP’s Neumann said.

Additional reporting by Nina Chestney and Markus Wacket, editing by Jane Baird

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