Peter Altmaier wants to make progress in climate protection with an EEG reform. However, he considers it unrealistic to achieve climate neutrality before 2050.
“If the market forces a faster coal exit, we will not oppose it” Photo: Felix Zahn / photothek / imago
taz: Mr. Altmaier, you recently said that there were “undeniable mistakes” in the government in terms of climate policy. Which were the biggest?
Peter Altmaier: Firstly, after the failed Copenhagen climate summit, we lost a decade before we in the EU committed to the Green Deal with its ambitious goals. And secondly, although we have done and achieved a great deal domestically, we have not been able to demonstrate in a comprehensible manner that with all the many small and large steps we can really and reliably achieve the major goal, namely to limit global warming to 2 degrees or even 1.5 degrees to reach.
And why should people believe you that things will now get better with the amendment to the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG)?
I admit that what we have agreed so far is not enough to become climate neutral by 2050. That is why I will make suggestions about what we need to change. Trust, especially among the younger generation, will only come about through concrete action. One piece in the mosaic is the EEG amendment, with which we are significantly accelerating the expansion of green electricity. We will expand far more photovoltaics and wind energy at sea and on land than was previously determined.
How much exactly?
We are going beyond the resolutions of the Climate Protection Program 2030, which we adopted last autumn: With photovoltaics, we are planning 100 gigawatts in 2030, more than the 98 gigawatts provided for in the climate protection plan. That is almost double the currently installed capacity. For onshore wind, a range of 67 to 71 gigawatts of output was set for 2030, so we’re now at the upper end with 71 gigawatts. To achieve this, we are changing the remuneration rules so that it becomes more attractive to also build wind turbines in locations with less wind, such as in southern Germany. There is particularly great potential for expansion when there is wind on the high seas. That is why we have already anchored a new, ambitious long-term target of 40 GW by 2040 in the Wind-at-Sea Act. I am convinced that we can achieve the goal of 65 percent electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
The 62-year-old Saarlander has been a member of the CDU in the Bundestag for 26 years. As Federal Minister of Economics and previously as Minister of the Environment and the Chancellery, he has been responsible for German climate policy for many years. He is regularly criticized by climate activists for this.
With this number, you assume that electricity consumption will not increase by 2030 compared to today, but rather decrease slightly. But many experts doubt that, because in the future more and more electricity will be needed in traffic, for heating and for industrial processes. Aren’t you kidding yourself?
We didn’t decide on our guts, but had expert opinions drawn up. They assume that electricity consumption will increase in some sectors, for example because of electromobility, but will decrease in others – for example through greater efficiency or because the coal-fired power plant will no longer use its own electricity. The bottom line is that the total will not differ significantly from today’s electricity consumption. If things turn out differently, the expansion must of course be adjusted upwards accordingly.
Instead of expanding, there could be a decline in renewables next year. Because at the turn of the year, the first wind and solar systems will fall out of funding after 20 years and may then be switched off.
The red-green coalition decided in 2000 to limit funding to 20 years. The idea was and is to replace the depreciated systems with more efficient systems. This is especially true for wind turbines, where “repowering” leads to much more electricity yield. There are cases, especially with operators of very small solar systems, where this is not possible. That is why we now want to stipulate in the EEG that these small photovoltaic systems can continue to feed their electricity into the grid even after the subsidy has ended and receive this remuneration at the market price.
Even if you can achieve 65 percent by 2030: is that enough? If the EU agrees on a higher climate target, Germany will probably have to bring more.
I cannot anticipate the decisions taken at EU level. But if there is a decision by the end of the year, then we will adjust the goals in the bill and of course the expansion paths.
Your spirit may be willing, but the flesh of the Union faction may be weak. Even the 65 percent are not undisputed. How do you intend to convince your party friends of even higher quotas?
Despite the corona pandemic, we have committed ourselves to the climate goals throughout the coalition and have not reduced them. And with the commitment to climate neutrality in 2050, the expansion of renewable energies has also been given a completely new priority in the economy. Industry also needs green electricity, because this is the only way to achieve the transformation towards climate neutrality, for example when converting steel production to green steel.
Do you see a rethinking in your group?
The major expansion steps of the last few decades have been made with significant support from my group because they have added value to rural areas. I have no doubt that the majority of my group attach great importance to maintaining the country’s industrial base. For this we need 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050. And so that the whole thing remains affordable, we decided as part of the economic stimulus program to stabilize the EEG surcharge from tax revenues and even to reduce it gradually over the next few years.
If the entire EU is aiming across all sectors to be climate neutral by 2050 – shouldn’t the German electricity sector have to achieve that much earlier?
We have more than doubled the share of renewable electricity in a decade from 21 to over 50 percent. Now we are tightening the 2050 target for renewables for the first time in over a decade. And in Germany we have set the end of coal use for 2035 to 2038. But there may be market dynamics here that are speeding up this process. Even before Corona, coal-fired power generation fell sharply.
So do you think the coal phase-out will come before 2035?
I don’t believe in tinkering with the legal requirements again. We have defined a clear and reliable cross-party path in the coal phase-out law. But if the market forces a faster exit, we will not oppose it.
Even if you implement all the announcements from the coalition’s climate protection program and we become climate neutral by 2050, Germany will emit twice as much CO2 as would be compatible with the 1.5 degree target. Not only environmental associations say that, but also the official government advisers from the Advisory Council on the Environment. So are you still too slow?
Achieving EU-wide greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 would be groundbreaking worldwide and will be difficult enough. To demand now to become climate neutral as early as 2040 or even earlier, I do not consider serious representable at this point in time.
Your announcements seem like preparation for a black-green coalition. If so, what position would you like to take on?
Believe me or not, we have had so much to do with Corona in the past few months, but also with climate policy projects, that I haven’t really gotten to thinking about coalition options. I have always enjoyed my work in the respective office, and achieving climate neutrality while preserving economic prosperity is a goal that pays off every effort.