New power plants for energy transition – Habeck achieves “breakthrough” with EU

Berlin/Hamburg (dpa) – The German government’s plan to restructure the country’s electricity system is based primarily on renewable energies from wind and solar power – but in addition, new hydrogen and gas-fired power plants are to be built for “dark lulls.” Robert Habeck (Greens), Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, is planning a power plant strategy to provide state incentives for this.

The subsidies have to be approved by the European Commission. Habeck and the Commission have now agreed on “guard rails”, according to a statement issued by the Economics Ministry in Berlin on Tuesday. In Hamburg, Habeck spoke of a “political breakthrough” on the way to CO2-free power plants. Investment subsidies were planned, he said. The next step is a consultation phase, which is due to start at the end of the summer. The subsidy process will then be continued with the European Commission.

The German government’s aim is for 80 percent of the electricity consumed in Germany to come from renewable sources by 2030, compared with just over half at present. There were always times when wind and sun were not sufficient, said Habeck. That’s when “controllable” power plants should kick in as a “backup” to meet electricity demand. Security of supply will always be the top priority. Investment subsidies for the new power plants are likely to run into billions. In addition, fossil fuel plants are likely to become increasingly unprofitable as the price of CO2 rises.

The details of the subsidies have not yet been decided. According to Habeck, the goal is “green” hydrogen, produced on the basis of renewable energies. But “blue” hydrogen was also better than natural gas or coal. This would involve capturing the carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuels and storing it underground, for example in former gas and oil reservoirs. Power plants also had the option of using “blue” hydrogen imported from Norway, for example, Habeck said.

The energy industry welcomed Habeck’s basic agreement with the European Commission. The industry has been waiting a long time for a power plant strategy and incentives for investment. Timm Kehler, chairman of the lobby group Zukunft Gas, said the details of the tenders had to be worked out quickly now. Without the construction of new power plants, there would be a shortfall in regulated power generation capacity of at least 15 gigawatts by 2030, he stated. “We can therefore not afford any further delay, otherwise it will become increasingly difficult to achieve the coal phase-out targeted for 2030.” FDP energy policy expert Konrad Stockmeier said the coal phase-out could not be achieved without the massive addition of flexible “H2-ready gas-fired power plants.”

For the Rhenish coalfields, the German government and energy company RWE have agreed to bring forward the coal phase-out by eight years to 2030. Habeck wants the same for East Germany’s lignite mining areas, but there is resistance. (1 August)

Austrian Florian Ederer a strong contender for top EU job

Brussels/Strasbourg (APA) – Austrian economist Florian Ederer, who currently teaches at Boston University, is considered a strong candidate for a top job at the European Commission. Ederer confirmed to APA on Wednesday that he had received “informal inquiries about my availability as chief economist” from the European Commission. Brussels is looking for a new Chief Competition Economist, following the departure of controversial American Fiona Scott Morton.

Ederer has been living and teaching in the US for several years. After eleven years as Associate Professor of Economics at prestigious Yale University, he joined Boston University as Professor of Management in July. He was “very interested” in the post, but there were other “very good candidates,” Ederer stressed. A Commission spokeswoman also confirmed that no decision had been taken and none was to be expected until after the summer at the earliest, as a selection process would have to take place before then.

The Commission is looking for a new chief economist for the influential Directorate General for Competition. It is responsible for enforcing rules to ensure fair competition in the single market. Its tasks include checking whether company mergers or the granting of state aid restrict free competition.

As US companies could also be affected, there were concerns, particularly from France, about the US economist Fiona Scott Morton. Conflicts of interest were feared, as she herself was said to have advised some large companies. As a result, Scott Morton resigned from her post. (2 August)

EU warns Italy to ‘respect international rules on sea rescues’

Brussels (ANSA) – “The rules included in Decree-Law”, which also introduced new rules for NGOs, “need to be interpreted and  implemented in compliance with international law.” This was written by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson in response to a question from more than 30 MEPs of different nationalities and political colours on the Italian government’s rules on sea rescue operations. Assistance at sea “is an obligation established by international maritime law,” Johansson stressed, pointing out that the reminder applies “including when private vessels systematically carry out search and rescue activities.

In the question, signed by Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Liberals (Renew), Greens and the Radical Left, MEPs question Italian rules that “requires civilian rescue ships to immediately proceed to a designated port, often a distant port, after each rescue, which delays search-and-rescue operations”, also citing some estimates of rescues provided by Médecins Sans Frontières.

“Within its competences and mandate” Johansson replied, “the Commission is in close and regular contact with the Italian authorities and continues to  follow closely the effective implementation” of the Decree in question. In addition to respecting the international obligation to rescue at sea, the Commissioner also recalls that “in line with the EU acquis, it is the responsibility of Member States to ensure that any person present in their territorial waters has effective access to the asylum procedure and to ensure that applications are examined in accordance with Directive 2013/32/EU1.” (1 August).

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Tuesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.