The Move to Renewables Germany's Nuclear Phase-Out Brings Unexpected Costs
Part 2: Not Knowing the Details
All of the political parties wanted to appear eco-friendly, and many politicians never knew much about how the system worked in detail. Former Minister Röttgen, for example, was quite surprised when he found out -- well into his term in office -- that Hartz IV recipients must pay their electricity bills out of the standard payment they receive from the government.
Members of the opposition were just as willing to overlook the bizarre redistribution of funds taking place as a result of the renewable energy subsidies, with low-income consumers in rental apartments subsidizing homeowners' solar panels through their energy bills.
The situation didn't seem to bother the center-left opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD), which was very much caught up in the green spirit of times. After all, the money benefited solar power, something everyone agreed was a "good thing," in the words of Ulrich Kelber, an SPD politician who works on environmental issues. There was no need, the SPD felt, to get worked up over a few cents here and there. The Green Party, meanwhile, took the position that it was necessary to make financial sacrifices for the sake of the "environmental transformation of society."
Now, though, the general mood seems to be shifting. Individuals are becoming increasingly aware that they're expected to bear the majority of the burden in the transition to renewable energy, while industry and power companies bask in endless subsidies.
New Class of Millionaires
Cash-strapped energy consumers find themselves pitted against profit-hungry entrepreneurs who have been spoiled by subsidies. They are businesspeople such as Frank Asbeck, a photovoltaics manufacturer who has become a multimillionaire -- with his own private castle, hunting grounds and a Maserati -- thanks to the EEG.
Asbeck received an appointment with Altmaier, the new environment minister, right away last Tuesday, to express his views on the issue. The energy transition will also prove profitable for investors in the project to expand Germany's power grid. The return on such investments is guaranteed by the government to be around 9 percent, an interest rate of which mere mortals with standard retirement plans can only dream.
"Private households are expected to pay for an energy transition for which no clear plan exists," says Holger Krawinkel of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations. "That's unacceptable."
Ulrich Schneider from Paritätische Gesamtverband, the umbrella organization working on social justice issues, warns that there will be protests.
"We can only truly commit to renewable energy if the costs are distributed fairly," he says. "Anyone using the energy transition as a campaign issue also needs to explain who's going to pay for it."
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein.
- Part 1: Germany's Nuclear Phase-Out Brings Unexpected Costs
- Part 2: Not Knowing the Details