“The Energiewende is Germany’s ‘Man to the Moon’ project”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Speaking at the first international conference on Germany’s transition to renewable energy (in German: Energiewende) last week, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the shift away from fossil fuels and nuclear power as his country’s “man to the moon project.”

The Berlin “Energy Transition Dialogue 2015” drew nearly 1,000 representatives from 60 countries, according to event sponsors. The Energiewende was formalized into German law in 2000 with the passage of the Renewable Energy Act. That law mandates a phase-out of nuclear power by 2022, steep reductions in CO2 emissions, and aims to generate 80 percent of the country’s power supply by renewable sources by 2050. (Germany today gets 27 percent of its electrical generation from renewables, including wind, biomass, and solar power.)

The conference was timed to precede — and shape — the United Nations Global Climate Conference COP21, scheduled for this December in Paris.

In his opening remarks, German Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel, addressed his country’s decision to phase out nuclear power despite the low GHG emissions from that energy source — a choice that is controversial elsewhere, but is widely supported across the political spectrum in Germany:

The ecological sense of the use of nuclear energy is not the point, because we now know that this is the most inefficient and most expensive  energy supply. That’s how the debate has switched from an environmental to an economic discussion about the future of our country.

Note: Clean Break, my e-book about the Energiewende, produced for InsideClimate News in 2012, can be found here. My more recent reporting from Germany on developments in the energy transition will appear in Discover magazine this summer.

Whistle blower: Former Arizona Utility Regulator Threatened Him Not to Reveal Inappropriate Activity

Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce

Former ACC Chairman Gary Pierce accused of secret meetings with utility heads.

Former Chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission Gary Pierce held about a dozen private meetings with executives of APS, the state’s largest electrical utility (and which is regulated by the ACC) — many of which took place while the commission was considering proposed rate hikes for APS customers, according to a letter written by an ACC employee who reported directly to Piece. The letter was addressed to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Susan Bitter Smith, current ACC chair, and ACC executive director, Jodi Jerich and sent on February 13, 2015.

The whistle blower, who has not been publicly identified, also claimed that Pierce ordered him to exert pressure on authorities to expedite paperwork to incorporate the Conservative Business League, a political consulting firm. CBL’s website lists Ron Ludders and Bob Thomas as directors of the firm.

According to the letter, on October 4, 2012, a month before elections for ACC commissioners, “Mr. Ludders reiterated how important it was that the filing be processed as soon as possible because they had checks to cash.” In the letter, the whistle blower writes, “Mr. Ludders said they had $186,000 in checks to destroy Commissions [Paul] Newman and [Sandra] Kennedy. He did so while patting the pocket of his suit jacket.”

2012 campaign sign for the "Solar Team."

2012 campaign sign for the “Solar Team.”

Democrats Newman and Kennedy, who billed themselves as part of a “solar team,” lost the November election.

The whistle blower thought nothing more of Ludders earlier comments until reading a December 11 news article about a “hit piece” mailer against the pro-solar pair, that, according the article, cost $186,000. In November 2013, the now all-GOP commission approved a measure allowing APS to impose a fee for customers with solar panels. APS proposed charging solar customers $8.00 per kilowatt — about $50 a month for a typical residential system. The commission instead imposed a fee of $.70 per kilowatt. Critics charge that although the new fee is small, it sets a precedent for future hikes which will discourage prospective customers from installing rooftop solar power.

The ACC whistle blower charged that in August of 2014 he told then-ACC Chairman Bob Stump about the improper meetings between Pierce and APS, his suspicions over “the dark money that funded the hit piece,” and other cases of “abuse of authority by current and ex officio members” of the ACC.

He ends his letter by stating that “to my knowledge nothing has been done with the information I provided.”

The man who heard thScreenClipe list of charges last summer, ACC commissioner Bob Stump, issued a statement last week saying, “Rest assured that this Commission takes all allegations seriously and I am confident that a through investigation will be conducted.”

In a twitter exchange in January, I asked Commissioner Stump about earlier charges of dark money influencing the ACC elections. Why not force donor disclosure? I asked. Stump didn’t answer directly, suggesting I track down his previous interviews and then dismissed the issue as “old campaign-stunt news.”



Poll: Germans Continue to Embrace Renewable Energy, but with an eye on the price tag



According to a new poll, 82 percent of Germans support the country’s transition to renewable energy, known as the Energiewende. The poll by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband) found some discontent with some aspects of the project, however, particularly with the cost.

Some 52 percent of respondents called rising energy prices a disadvantage of the Energiewende. At $0.35 U.S per kilowatt hour kWh, the price German consumers pay for electricity is among the highest in Europe. Danes pay the most $0.40/kWh and Bulgarians the least $0.11/kWh.

Overall, the poll found that Germans are willing to pay more for electricity they consider safe, i.e., non-nuclear and non-polluting. Part of the increased cost comes from a surcharge for renewable energy that is paid to individuals or groups that produce “clean power” and sell it to the grid. The program, called a Feed-in Tariff FiT, has helped create a solar photovoltaic PV boom across Germany.

The installed capacity of PV the theoretical maximum amount of electricity that could be produced if all solar panels were running at 100 percent capacity in 2003 was less than half a gigawatt GW. A decade later, that figure stands at 34 GW – and growing.

Actual solar power production across Germany can be seen in real time on a site run by German solar technology manufacturer, SMA.

via Solar Power Remains Popular in Germany, Despite Cost | Earthzine.