Germany's parliament has voted to revise the country's green power subsidies and surcharges system, ostensibly to rein in costs. Critics say households will foot the bill for 45 percent renewables in Germany by 2025.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition mustered a 78 percent majority vote in parliament on Friday to modify Germany's 14-year-old Renewable Energy Act. Objectors said households and not industry will end up paying more.
In a ballot, 454 parliamentarians voted for the package, six abstained, and 123 voted against the package of amendments decried by the opposition Greens and Left party.
If the Bundesrat upper house - representing Germany's 16 regional states - also backs the move next month, the amendments will apply from August 1 and give electricity-intensive firms time to apply for surcharge exemptions.
Renewables currently account to about 25 percent of Germany's power generation.
Gabriel defends revisions
A defense of the package came from Vice Chancellor and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel of the center-left Social Democrats, who are partners with the conservatives in Merkel's coalition government.
"We don't want to increasingly burden energy-intensive industry in Germany, whereby consumer households would save 10, 20 or 30 euros per year [on theit power bills] but put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk," Gabriel said, referring to warnings from industry leaders not to burden their export-orientated production with extra costs.
Gabriel also said he hoped a dispute with EU free-competition inspectors, who want foreign supplies of electricity to Germany to be freed from paying German surcharges, would be resolved in the coming weeks.
Subsidies to be trimmed
Parliament's renewables package would gradually trim subsidies paid in recent years to householders and firms which feed electricity from their own solar, wind, hydro-power and biogas installations into the public power grid.
Currently, one kilowatt-hour of such power draws a 17 euro cent subsidy. Next year, this will sink to 12 cents.
Left party spokeswoman Caren Lay said privileges for industry contained in the bill would also harm small cooperatives. The act failed to break the stranglehold of the big energy utilities, she said.
Greens parliamentarian Oliver Krischer criticized Gabriel for extending surcharges to householders, especially those who generated power from their own solar panels or wind turbines. An estimated 1.4 million residential buildings have solar power.
Demotivating, say environmentalists
Hubert Weiger, the chairman of Germany's branch of Friends of the Earth, BUND, said the reform package was "no motivation for citizens, who are keen to boost the usage of renewable sources of energy."
NABU in a statement said almost half of all of Germany's renewable energy plants have been installed in recent years by home owners, farmers, cooperatives and other regional ventures.
Renewables scene diverse across Germany
After Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, Germany reaffirmed plans, briefly abandoned by Merkel after her 2009 election win, to phase out its own nuclear power generation by 2022.
Renewables generation differs greatly across Germany's regional states. The small western coal-state of Saarland produces only 15 percent. Brandenburg, surrounding Berlin, generates an estimated 78 percent of its supply from wind, solar and biomass plants.
ij/msh (dpa, Reuters, epd)
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