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German Court Upholds Nuclear Exit and Orders Compensation for Power Companies


The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, Germany, ruled on Tuesday that power companies must be compensated for losses resulting from the government’s decision to close nuclear plants. Credit Uli Deck/DPA, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BERLIN — Germany’s highest court upheld on Tuesday the government’s decision in 2011 to shut down nuclear reactors ahead of schedule but ruled that power companies must be compensated for losses incurred as a result of the decision.

The ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe brings to an end a long, bitter dispute between the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel and German power companies on the decision in 2011 to abandon nuclear power in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

Germany began transforming its energy sector in 1988 to one powered largely by renewable sources like wind, solar and biomass. Shutting down the country’s nuclear reactors over time had been part of the original plan.

In the months before Fukushima, Ms. Merkel’s center-right government had extended the life of several reactors, citing their use as a so-called bridge technology to ensure a stable flow of power through the grid, only to change course after the disaster in March 2011, a move that took eight reactors out of service and accelerated plans to close the remaining nine by 2022, earlier than originally scheduled.

E.ON, RWE and Vattenfall had sued the government for compensation, estimated at 19 billion euros, or about $ 20.5 billion, for losses incurred as a result of the decision to speed up the deadline, and they questioned the legality of the move.

At the time, nuclear power provided 23 percent of the electricity in Germany, leaving the companies in the months after they were taken offline with energy they could not sell. In addition, the companies were saddled with costs for processing and storing waste from the reactors, projected to amount to €23.6 billion.

The court ordered the government and the power companies to reach an agreement on the compensation by 2018, but gave no guidance on an amount.

Even as the legal dispute has simmered, Germany has moved ahead with the transformation of its energy sector. In 2015, when the nuclear reactor at Grafenrheinfeld, in Bavaria, was shuttered — the most recent to be taken offline — renewable sources produced 29 percent of all electricity in Germany, government figures show.

Germany’s move away from nuclear power comes as the country is aiming to increase production of energy from renewable sources to at least 35 percent, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent of 1990 levels, all by 2020.

The country’s transition to renewable energy is projected to create about 430,000 new jobs by 2020, PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a report this month.

Ms. Merkel has indicated that she will use her country’s term as president of the Group of 20, which began last week, to continue to push for increased use of renewable energy around the world in the fight against climate change.

“Of course I’ll say that I believe that climate change is certainly caused by humans,” Ms. Merkel told delegates at a party meeting in Münster, Germany, the Bild daily reported. “And we’ll want to see if the position there develops.”

Source: NYT > World

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