Germany's BEE warns EC on probe

The German renewables industry has reacted angrily to reports that the EU Commission (EC) is planning to put the country’s clean-energy law (EEG) under fresh scrutiny over possible breach of state aid rules.

EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia on Wednesday is slated to open formal proceedings into exemptions to the payment of the renewable energy surcharge (EEG surcharge) by many German industries, according to local media reports.

But some media outlets claim the impending probe by the EC seems to also be directed against Germany’s EEG itself.

A spokeswomen for Almunia neither confirmed nor denied the reports to Recharge.

Any prospect of EC action against the wider EEG is likely to be fiercely resisted by the Berlin government and was immediately condemned by the German federation for renewable energy (BEE).

It said the European Court of Justice in 2001 had already ruled that the EEG in itself doesn’t constitute illegal state aid. The EC in 2002 said it would follow the Court's view and also said the EEG is no subsidy.

“Eleven years later, the EC now tries to declare the law as a subsidy,” the BEE says.

The BEE accuses the EC of trying to directly influence the energy policy of a member state.

Under the EEG, renewable energy installations in Germany get a feed-in tariff (FIT) for usually 20 years.

As part of the legislation, power consumers have to pay the renewables surcharge on top of their electricity bills to finance the build-up of green energies.

Heavy industries exposed to international competition had for long been exempt from paying the surcharge, but the exemptions were extended to a very large part of German industries under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s previous centre-right government, raising eyebrows in Brussels.

Germany’s incoming coalition government between Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and her Social Democrat rivals has already signalled that it may reduce the exemptions, but at the same time pledges to protect German industries from too-high power prices.

German industries, meanwhile, warn that the EC investigation could seriously harm several sectors, especially if the EC were to claim back the surcharge that wasn’t paid in past years, which would cost industries billions of euros.

“This probe by the EU commission means a de-industrialisation of Germany,” Detlef Wetzel, the leader of the powerful metal workers union IG-Metall, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, adding that the proposal was insane and threatens hundreds of thousands of jobs.

“It would be the end of the steel, aluminium and chemical industries in Germany.”