Germany has officially revealed plans to shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants over the next 19 years in its quest against climate change.

The announcement marked a significant shift for Europe’s largest country — a nation that had long been a leader on cutting CO2 emissions before turning into a laggard in recent years and badly missing its reduction targets. Coal plants account for 40% of Germany’s electricity, itself a reduction from recent years when coal dominated power production.

“This is an historic accomplishment,” said Ronald Pofalla, chairman of the 28-member government commission, at a news conference in Berlin following a marathon 21-hour negotiating session that concluded at 6 a.m. Saturday. The breakthrough ended seven months of wrangling. “It was anything but a sure thing. But we did it,” Pofalla said. “There won’t be any more coal-burning plants in Germany by 2038.”

The plan includes some $45 billion in spending to mitigate the pain in coal regions. The commission’s recommendations are expected to be adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.

Of course, green justice warriors are still unhappy with this plan.

The reduction in coal will have to be compensated by an increase in renewable power sources and — at least in the interim — from burning more natural gas, which emits about half the amount of greenhouse gases as coal.

Greenpeace, which wants all coal plants shut down by 2030, welcomed that “Germany finally has a timetable how the country can become coal-free” but said the measures were not ambitious and fast enough.

“The speed is wrong,” said Martin Kaiser, the head of Greenpeace. “Exiting coal by the year 2038 only is inacceptable.”

This may be very good news for the United States. Why? Because Germany will be relying more on natural gas, and our nation has substantially increased production of this particular resource.

On the other hand, given the potential for economic catastrophe and its impact on Europe, it could also be a major headache. It will be interesting to see where Germany is, in terms of fiscal health, in comparison to Poland, which has made the decision to rely on coal as its main energy source.

Around 80% of Poland’s electricity is generated using coal, and the country relies heavily on the fuel for heating. At Bloomberg’s NEF Future of Energy Summit in October, Polish politician Piotr Naimski explained that the country would not be turning its back on coal, and instead planned to continue mining and burning the controversial fossil fuel.

Poland has begun to adopt renewables, but slowly. Wind turbines are being built in the Baltic Sea, but there is effectively no solar power and little hydro. This is despite the cost of renewables plummeting around the world, and technologies becoming increasingly efficient and reliable.

As a member of the European Union (EU), Poland has decarbonisation goals to meet, so what’s holding the country back from embracing renewable energy sources and moving away from coal?

I would be happy to wager any of these people that Poland will be in better economic shape in 20 years and likely at the head of a new European alliance.


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