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German environment minister brushes off power price plan carping

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 4 Feb 2013 14:23 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Dismisses report that the economy minister is opposed

* Calls on opposition Social Democrats to co-operate

* Pledges not to waste time for electioneering

By Vera Eckert

ESSEN, Germany, Feb 4 (Reuters) - German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier on Monday reaffirmed his intention to limit power price rises for consumers ahead of September general elections and pledged to look for multi-party backing for his latest reform plan.

"Power prices need to be kept at a level you can calculate and rely on," he said at a conference in Essen. "The way the system works now cannot continue and politicians have to meet their responsibilities to change it."

The remarks came after heated weekend statements in reaction to his plan, published a week ago.

Economy Minister Philipp Roesler, of the free market liberals, was quoted criticising the proposals as "illusory solutions" that were doomed to failure.

Altmaier brushed aside the report, saying he had not seen it. He said he was certain of support by the liberals for work on an overhaul of the green surcharges system.

Altmaier wants to cap rises in subsidies to renewable power producers, which have caused an installation boom and burden consumers, and suspend feed-in tariffs to new installations.

He also wants owners of existing renewable installations to contribute to an "energy solidarity tax" and to end exemptions for some energy intensive firms from a surcharge for renewables which is imposed on households.

Opposition parties could block his plan - which is meant to precede a wider energy reform - should Chancellor Angela Merkel win another term. This is because Merkel's coalition government, weakened by state elections, no longer holds a majority in the Bundesrat upper house.

But Altmaier said he would not just lobby environment ministers of Germany's 16 states, from all parties, but Merkel would also try and bring state premiers on board at a March 21 meeting, where the power prices debate would be on the agenda.

He welcomed a statement by the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, who had agreed wholesale reform of the green subsidy law was necessary even if he had described Altmaier's ideas as the wrong course.

Altmaier said this was a "cooperation proposal."

He said, "The discussion has become more objective...nobody wants to be responsible for double-digit price rises again in October," he said.

Surcharges under the renewable energy law (EEG) - a big component of the power price borne by consumers - are calculated once a year and hiked by 40 percent last October which caused an outcry by consumers.

The surcharges are imposed to fund the switch to renewables under Merkel's energy shift strategy away from fossil fuels.

If the system continued unchanged, this autumn another 4 billion euros or even 6 billion (${esc.dollar}5.5-8.2 billion) could be missing in the EEG budget, causing more price hikes, Altmaier said. (${esc.dollar}1 = 0.7301 euros) (Reporting by Vera Eckert, editing by William Hardy)

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