Altmaier cites €1 trillion bill in German FIT row

German environment minister Peter Altmaier shocked the country’s public and renewables sector alike today by claiming its energy transition could cost about €1 trillion ($1.33 trillion) by the end of the 2030s if current support schemes are left unchanged.

Although feed-in tariffs (FITs) for renewable power output have been falling recently, costs will remain high for decades to come as FITs are often granted for a 20-year period, he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

The design of Germany’s electricity market, which has the paradoxical effect of driving up support payments for renewables whenever a high green-power output pushes wholesale market prices down, also adds to the costs, he acknowledged.

“The energy turnaround needs to be affordable,” he insisted.

FIT payments up to 2022 alone – the year Germany plans to have switched off its last nuclear reactor – would be €680bn, Altmaier claims. Upgrading power grids, guaranteeing reserve energy capacity, research, electro-mobility and overhaul of buildings to make them more energy efficient would add to those costs, he said.

The environment minister used the cost estimate to defend a proposal made last week by him and economics minister Philipp Rösler to freeze a current surcharge that finances renewable energies.

To achieve that freeze, the ministers have proposed a series of harsh measures such as additional cuts to future wind power FITs, a moratorium on new FIT payments and a retroactive one-off cut in FITs for already-operating renewable installations.

Hermann Falk, the managing director of Germany’s Renewable Energy Association BEE, rebuffed Altmaier’s cost estimate as completely unrealistic and driven by electoral motives ahead of German federal elections in September.

The estimate wrongly compares the full cost of renewable power to those of conventional power plants, the construction of which has already been paid for years ago, Falk complained.

“He also completely leaves out the environmental and health costs of a fossil-nuclear energy supply,” Falk added.

Altmaier calculates the costs of renewables artificially high, and ignores the fact that the cost of keeping a conventional energy system would be double, Green Party MP and energy expert Hans-Josef Fell claimed.

He added Altmaier wants to put pressure on the opposition to approve his plans to freeze the renewables surcharge in Germany’s upper house, the Bundesrat, which represents German states.

Opposition parties including the Greens recently acquired a majority in the Bundesrat, and may try to delay Altmaier’s plans in the upper chamber up to general elections in the more important lower house, the Bundestag.