Commission on Coal recommends completing the phase-out by 2038

The Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment has tabled its proposals for ending the use of coal-fired power in Germany, saying that all plants should go offline by 2038.

Big renewables icons, smaller fossil fuels icons© gettyimages/Fotosoearch

Following intensive discussions, the 28 members of the Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment, aka the Commission on Coal, have now reached a near-unanimous decision in favour of terminating the use of coal for electricity generation, and of doing so in a way that allows the people and companies affected by this to plan ahead with certainty and opens up prospects for sustainable development following the age of coal. The Commission handed over its Final Report (in German only) to the Federal Chancellor at the end of January.

Its membership had been designed to ensure representation of the relevant groups: experts from industry and environmental groups, members of trade unions and citizens’ initiatives, and representatives of Germany’s coal-mining regions. A large number of scientists and interest groups were also heard.

A balanced solution to a complex task

The task set for the Commission on Coal had been everything but straightforward:
• draw up a proposal for an incremental termination of the use of coal for electricity generation (complete with a final deadline) to ensure that the energy industry will reach its emission reduction target for 2030 (sector-specific target).
• In addition to this, the Commission was asked to develop specific plans on how to create new and future-proof jobs in the regions affected by the phase-out.
• And, just as importantly, to ensure energy security for Germany, and at affordable prices for electricity.

It took the Commission on Coal little more than six months after its establishment to come up with a Final Report on which all of its members, except one, were able to agree. Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier seemed happy with the outcome, commenting that the Commission had succeeded in “presenting a balanced overall solution”. In their report, the Commission highlights the importance of having its various proposals put in practice all at the same time, given that they all depend on each other. Progress reviews on individual steps are to take place in 2023, 2026, and 2029. Read on for the most important points:

For our climate: terminate the use of coal for electricity generation by 2038

The members of the Commission have recommended that the phase-out of coal-fired power plants be completed by 2038, and by 2035 if certain conditions are met. In either case, the number of coal-fired power plants is to be halved by 2030. This is to ensure that Germany is able to meet its climate targets for the energy sector, whilst making a successful transition to renewables and gas-fired power plants.

For Germany’s coal-mining regions: financial support

The Commission has recommended that a programme for regional development be launched instantaneously to support the regions affected in their structural change. "We are already working on this", said Minister Altmaier. The Commission wants the Länder which have coal-mining regions to receive €40 billion for specific projects to be completed over the next 20 years. This would apply to some parts of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Lausitz and the wider region of Leipzig and Halle, which all still have lignite mines. Lignite is used for electricity and heat generation and in the chemical industries.

For employees working in the lignite sector: create new jobs

At present, there are around 20,000 people working in the German lignite industry: 15,000 in mining and another 5,000 in power plants. The Commission has recommended that they be given safeguards. Furthermore, they are to receive better training and continuing training. Innovative technologies are to drive the creation of new jobs, particularly in industry. Said Minister Altmaier: "It has been very important to the Commission to ensure that there is a chance that there will be more jobs, not less, than prior to the beginning of the transformation."

For customers: ensure a secure and affordable supply of electricity

Minister Altmaier has highlighted that he regards ensuring a secure supply of electricity as a key task for him as Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy. He said that phasing out coal does not risk harming Germany’s energy security. Furthermore, it is also not to put a financial burden on electricity customers. "The Government will do everything that is necessary to protect consumers from price hikes caused by the replacement of coal with renewables." The Commission on Coal has recommended that energy companies be compensated for having to take their power plants off the grid.

What will the next steps be?

"Now the hard and intense work will begin for the Federal Government. We will take the Commission’s recommendations seriously and work on their implementation", says Minister Altmaier. "We are currently looking at how we are going to do this." Chancellor Merkel has announced that legislation on action to be taken in the regions affected is to be drafted over the coming months.