Big Gift to Big Business: Berlin to Exempt 1,550 Firms From Electricity Surcharge

Germany plans to exempt 1,550 large firms from a power price surcharge that covers part of the cost of switching to renewable energy. Critics say the list of exemptions is spurious and unfair to households and small businesses. It risks undermining faith in the government's switch to clean power.

Power lines in Germany: Many big firms are being spared the payment of an electricity price surcharge designed to pay for the country's energy revolution. Zoom

Power lines in Germany: Many big firms are being spared the payment of an electricity price surcharge designed to pay for the country's energy revolution.

The German government will exempt some 1,550 industrial companies from electricity cost increases in 2013, SPIEGEL has learned.

The Federal Office for Economics and Export Control informed the firms in mid-December that they won't have to pay a special charge imposed on electricity customers under the country's Renewable Energy Act to help cover the cost of expanding the production of energy from renewable sources.

The opposition Green Party estimates that the companies will save up to €4 billion ($5.3 billion) as a result. The electricity bills for private energy customers and smaller businesses will increase by a commensurate amount.

"It is breathtaking," says Felix Mathes, an analyst at Öko-Institut, a consultancy on environmental sustainability. In many cases the criterion for exempting companies from the charge -- the need to preserve international competitiveness -- doesn't apply, he says. "At least half the companies don't belong on this list," he says.

The list includes coal mines of the companies RAG and Vattenfall, slaughterhouses of poultry businesses such as Wiesenhof, and a number of animal feed producers. Among others on the list are regional makers of sausage and cheese, chocolate factories, solar and bioenergy companies, the Munich municipal utility, oil company Exxon and even the publisher of regional newspaper Weser-Kurier, Bremer Tageszeitungen AG.

The government's generous approach towards big business risks denting acceptance of the mammoth task of weaning the country off fossil fuels, say critics. While Economy Minister Philipp Rösler of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) supports the current practice, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier wants to drastically cut the exemptions next year.

Altmaier has the backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel in this regard. She said last week that it wasn't acceptable to have every fewer businesses pay for the energy revolution.


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